In a sit-down interview with O-W District Administrator Bob Houts, the question was posed as to what exactly became of the dome project and where things now stand. This is that interview.
Sentinel & Rural News: So, the project is no longer a dome. What was the rationale behind that?
Bob Houts: Correct. When we went out to bid, we had done all of the design work and spent most of the Winter with that. We went out to bid in early June and the bids came back $2 million over what we had budgeted. Truthfully, we are still struggling with why that was. There were COVID issues, I guess, but the dome itself, when we had budgeted for it a year earlier, was about $650,000 and that was based on other construction that was similar in size to ours. When we got our bids, it was at $1.3 million, effectively doubling the cost.
So, we had to go back and revisit the whole plan. We moved from a circular building to a rectangular one. Instead of block, it will be pre-cast concrete. You see a lot of commercial buildings around that have that kind of set-up. And instead of it being 12,000 square feet, it will be 9,600 sq. ft. but we are eliminating all those circular walls.
There are advantages to going to a right-angle structure because everything we put in there will be rectangular or flat, so it will be sitting on a flat wall, instead of a round one.
We had originally gone with the dome because construction was 18% less than a traditional right-angle one. Then, when the cost of the dome doubled, the 18% cheaper went out the window. So, as we looked at it, we can basically get everything we want in that smaller footprint of a building. The smaller the footprint, the lower the cost.
SRN: So, where does everything stand right now?
BH: We’re in the process of getting the drawings redone right now and they are supposed to be done in a couple of weeks. Then we will go back out for bids, so we are hoping that we will have better news early in October.
SRN: It looks like materials is starting to adjust downwards now, so—without looking to lay blame—was it Market & Johnson that mis-stepped on the budget?
BH: No, no. Not at all. It was the contractors who were making the bids. Market & Johnson were as surprised as anyone. You got to go back and look at the architects and the people who were working with the architects and the building inside the building who kept saying “here’s what we want” and the architects draw what we want. Then they send it to Market & Johnson to go out for bid and what we wanted—what we thought was in acceptable margins—was no longer reasonable.
The cost of the dome, like I said, was up, the electrical, the HVAC. The HVAC was like $500-600k more than what we estimated. So, we had to cut back on a lot of stuff that we wanted. As we look at it again, we can hopefully trim that up again. It will be the same quality of building but, instead of a circle, it will be a rectangle.
SRN: So, what are we looking at as far as improvements?
BH: The way things look right now, the cafeteria will be 2½ times the size of the present cafeteria. The kitchen itself and the serving lines will alone be the size of the present cafeteria. Almost exactly the same size, square-footage-wise. So, we are going to get much more space and that will be much better for us.
So, just like we have now, the new cafeteria will accommodate both elementary school and high school.
SRN: What becomes of the existing cafeteria?
BH: The plan right now is that we will turn that into our fitness center and a weight room for our athletes. Our goal all along was the create a community fitness center. We’ve got the parking for people to come in. We can get electronic keys for just that door. That is only for the present cafeteria area. The kitchen area is slated for locker rooms, for people to be able to change. We just don’t have the ability on that right now.
When they started looking at that, they estimated that it was going to cost about $600k. That was a year ago. Well, guess what? So, that was the first thing to go.
SRN: Will the revised structure still be able to withstand an F-5 tornado?
BH: Yes. We have to in order to get the money from FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency), it has to do that. The walls be pre-cast concrete 10-inches thick. The roof will be concrete and supersized. It still must be a storm shelter.
SRN: Even with the almost-three thousand fewer feet, it will still hold the same amount of people in emergencies.
BH: Yes. The only time it will approach capacity is if the storm comes during a school day. You will have all the students AND the nearby residents. The storm of a couple of weeks ago forced 500 students and staff to take shelter. Add local residents to the that and we just might get to capacity. But that was only for about an hour. Nobody was going to be living here.
With that said, I could foresee a situation where it became a temporary living space if something should happen to the healthcare facility and they had to evacuate for days. We could at least get them here, get them secured, then they could find other facilities for the long term. It could be a temporary Red Cross shelter.
In the end, nothing has been lost, just rearranged.
The Sentinel & Rural News covers the news and events of Clark County and southern Taylor County, as well as regional news that affects those areas.