Design company works with officials to evaluate buildings and grounds in preparation for possible referendum
With the assistance of an Appleton-based design firm, Grafton school officials are continuing to evaluate buildings and grounds for potential upgrade projects that could lead to the district holding a 2016 referendum.
Hoffman Planning, Design & Construction has spent several weeks assessing facilities in response to a variety of concerns, including problems with mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems, roofs, walls, windows and doors, Supt. Mel Lightner said.
On Dec. 1, the School Board agreed to work with Hoffman, which Lightner said is doing the assessment work at no cost. However, the board is also expected to finalize an agreement early next year that would pay the firm design fees ranging from 4.25% to 8.5% of the project cost if a referendum is successful and depending on the scope of the project.
In addition, the fee for construction management services would range from 1.75% to 3.5%.
“We want to have this done right. This is taxpayers’ money, and we have to be careful,” Lightner said.
“You have to do this in a systematic process that looks at all the district’s needs and the most cost-effective way of doing things.”
In March, the board agreed to have Lightner and Business Director Kristen Sobocinski begin the evaluation process by contacting architectural and construction firms. The board subsequently decided to consider hiring an “owner’s representative” to evaluate facilities, design upgrades requested by the district and manage the construction process.
The assessment process, which is expected to be completed this month, is the first in a series of steps outlined by Lightner that also includes forming a citizens committee to review study results and prioritize upgrade needs.
Based on the assessment and residents’ input, the board is expected to decide in late 2015 or early 2016 whether to hold a referendum as early as April 2016.
Lightner said plans call for the citizens committee to be formed by the board in January 2015 to tour buildings and recommend upgrades based on the study and their findings. Those proposals could be presented to the board by September, he said.
From September to December 2015, the board would review options and seek additional input from staff members, residential surveys, focus groups and other sources, Lightner said.
“It’s very time-consuming, but it’s supposed to be because you have to have all that input,” he said.
“It’s critical that we have the community as engaged as possible in the process.”
Lightner declined to speculate how much the upgrades might cost. However, based on a 2010 study done by Plunkett Raysich Architects that revealed deteriorating facilities throughout the district, the board in 2012 identified $21.5 million in needed upgrades.
In April 2013, the board voted to spend $2.2 million on the most pressing upgrades. Those included installing new bleachers for the Grafton High School football and soccer fields and pool, roof work at Woodview Elementary School, and tuck pointing and other repairs at the high school, John Long Middle School and the three elementary schools.
The district was able to avoid holding a referendum because $1.8 million of the $2.2 million is being repaid without exceeding the state-imposed revenue cap.
In March, Director of Maintenance Jamie Scofield told the board the upgrades helped maintain facilities but that many other problems remained, including cracked mortar, brickwork and parking lots; broken and corroded pipes and electrical systems; defective heating and air-conditioning units; and worn carpeting and floor and ceiling tiles.
Lightner said the assessments will also consider space needs, technology requirements and energy efficiencies in schools and offices.
“If we do anything based on a referendum, we’re not going to put cheap things in,” he said. “It has to be quality upgrades with long-term cost effectiveness in mind.”
Lightner said improvement projects would be undertaken with priority given to area companies.
“We’re going to encourage the hiring of local vendors, local firms,” he said. “That’s another priority.”
Board President Terry Ziegler voiced support for the evaluation process and Lightner’s preparation plans for a possible referendum.
“I think Mel has really done his homework,” Ziegler said. “You can’t do this without getting people involved and making sure the community is fully informed.
“If we go to a referendum, we want it to succeed, but that can’t happen unless everyone understands what all the options are.”
As for the likelihood of a referendum, Ziegler and Lightner said district officials are taking a wait-and-see approach. However, Ziegler said any extensive upgrades probably can’t be done without approval of a major spending plan at the polls.
“I’m not sure how we could get all these things done without a referendum passing,” he said.