The Board spent the majority of its special meeting Monday, November 19 discussing next steps post-referendum, including its work with FEH Design as it pertains to the elementary project. (Scroll past the video for more article text)
Following the Friday, November 16 meeting, Interim Superintendent Mitch Wainwright requested Kevin Eipperle of FEH to send him any past contracts and correspondence relating to the firm’s work leading up to referendum, as well as any work guaranteed post-referendum. FEH has guided the District through the Facility Condition Assessment, Space Needs Evaluation, community survey process, Elementary School Planning Committee process, Community Design Workshop Process, and was present for Community Open Houses during the referendum engagement process.
Wainwright also reached out to former Superintendent Luke Francois for history on the arrangements.
Francois’ correspondence back to Wainwright, which Wainwright then forwarded to the Board, indicated that Larry Steffes (who was Board President at the time the District became involved with FEH) along with Francois both liked the “feel of FEH” and referenced a handshake agreement moving forward between FEH and the District.
Wainwright also shared that he reached out to the Cuba City School District, whom FEH has done work for following their referendum, and the superintendent said he was very satisfied with the process.
“It’s the Board’s decision where to go next,” said Wainwright. “I do know you had Johnson Controls in to do a study, then Nexus do a study, then FEH came in and had to duplicate because they couldn’t use anything from Nexus.”
Board member Tony Dahl asked, “If the Board chooses not to go with FEH, then would a new firm have to come in and start all over again so we’d basically be duplicating services?”
Wainwright confirmed that was an accurate statement.
Steffes said, “To be clear, FEH and the Mineral Point School District are not operating under any contract. With that said, the Board and the community need to be very comfortable with knowing they are getting $11.9 million worth of goods and services, and the only way we’re going to know that is if we go out to bid. Personally, I feel we’re not getting $11.9 million worth.”
Board member Aaron Dunn said he would like to hear more about Steffes’ disappointment with FEH so far.
Steffes said “part of Francois’ letter was accurate” — that the Board wanted more of an ala carte referendum idea, instead of one big plan. But then, FEH came back with an $11.92 million plan, which Steffes said he has never supported.
Steffes also added that the referendum vote to pass the building was close (150 votes), and the Board hasn’t talked about that yet.
Dahl said he visited the elementary school recently. Having been a student there when it was new, his memories were very different than the current reality, saying he was “taken aback” by some of the conditions of the building.
Board member Everett Lindsey said it would be difficult for a new architectural firm to come up with a design without spending time on the site.
Dunn also reminded the Board at the November 16 meeting, Eipperle said FEH’s services so far post-referendum would be upward of $20,000.
Steffes said, “If he’s not under contract, no one told him to start that process.”
Dunn also responded to Steffes’ concerns about the project being overpriced by saying, “Absent of the design cost, the project cost will all be based on construction, supplies, labor” that will have oversight from a general contractor.
Dahl expressed concern, given the District’s track record, that firms might not bid due to the district’s history of backing out of arrangements surrounding elementary building work over the past several years.
Dunn said he wants to avoid such a delay in the process so that, “if the District doesn’t have a contractor ready to go when school gets out because we delayed the design process too long, then we have to answer to the community on that.”
Lindsey echoed that statement and added the longer the District waits, the more expensive the project will become due to increased construction costs.
Board President Jeff Basting stated, over the last week or more, he has had “over 100” people approach him upset that a new school was not an option. He is upset the Board has never taken control of the situation, and now is faced with spending $12 million because the public has told us we can.
If the Board would want to go to referendum for a new school, it would need to pass resolution language by January 22 for an April election.
Dunn replied the Board did talk about a new school, even voting on the draft language of the ballot resolution three times. “The reason it seems we didn’t talk about a new school very much was much of that discussion centered around how high of a price even $12 million was for a remodel,” added Dunn. “The Board didn’t even pass the $12 million resolution unanimously because some Board members felt that was too much.”
“There was plenty of opportunity to speak up and steer the ship in a different direction, plus the resolution went to the community and passed,” added Dunn. “If we want to survey again and base our decision on a new school on a few hundred survey responses versus an 1100 vote in favor of a remodel, I would be a little nervous about that.”
Board member Andy Busch asked about the legality because the Board has already levied $400,000 this school year for this successful referendum.
Wainwright said he contacted the DPI and learned that, if the Board would decide to go to referendum in April for a new school, it would need to ask permission to levy the entire amount, not just the difference in price between the remodel and the new school. The price quoted for a new school was approximately $18 million.
– The Board acted on suspending the $5,000 spending policy for items that fall under the referendum budget. This passed with a 4-3 vote. Voting yes were Busch, Dahl, Dunn, and Lindsey. Voting no were Nate Chambers, Steffes, and Basting.
– The Board will bring back at the November 26th meeting the RFP language for a general contractor, as well as approval of the architect.
– The Board began the meeting with discussion surrounding the Personnel Committee meeting to talk about the process for hiring a new superintendent.
Dahl asked if there was anything ever done since the matter was last discussed surrounding possible search firms.
Basting said yes, former Board member Kelly Gundlach had recommended in her last correspondence to him as former chair of the Personnel Committee that the District should go with the Wisconsin Association of School Boards, after having 35 applicants when the job was posted this summer to WECAN. Basting agreed with Gundlach’s recommendation, saying he didn’t think the district needed to look further. Gundlach also suggested WASB do the candidate vetting process.
The committee will meet following the Special Board meeting Monday, November 26 to discuss next steps and perhaps have a recommendation for action at the December 10 Board meeting.