School board takes Nelson over Baxter for school project


FORT MADISON – Carl A. Nelson & Co., of Burlington will be helping the Fort Madison Community School District with its next shot at building a new Prek-3rd grade elementary school.

Nelson was selected over Baxter Construction of Fort Madison on a tight 4-3 vote by the district’s board of directors at Monday’s regular meeting.

After a brief discussion on hiring the construction management agency, a motion was made to hire Nelson to lead the next effort to get a bond approved and oversee the construction of the facility if and when it’s approved.

Directors Tim Wondra, Carol Ross, Lois DiPrima, and Gayla Young voted in favor of hiring Nelson & Co., while Dianne Hope, Jared Hotop and Brian Steffensmeier voted against the motion.

Officials from both Baxter and Carl A. Nelson made pitches to the school board at its previous meeting on Oct. 1. Both companies agreed to waive any fees associated with helping promote the bond referendum to district tax payers in the event the bond failed.

The two companies were asked to speak to the board after the board’s bond subcommittee made up of Wondra, Ross, and Hope had interviewed the two companies and a third out of Des Moines. The committee also interviewed three architectural firms to help determine if hiring another architectural firm or a construction manager was the best way to proceed.

Feedback on previous failed bond attempts pointed the board in the direction of hiring a construction management firm, as well as a lack of local participation.

Following the presentations two weeks ago, the board then prepared a rubric to rate the companies on several factors including experience, team, presentation, and fees.

Experience was given a weight of 50% in the rubric. Fees were given a 25% weight, while Team was given 20% and Presentation was 5% of the total score.

Carl A. Nelson was given a composite score of 26.55 in the weighted system, while Baxter received a score of 20.55. Each board member scored each category and then the results were combined into one summary sheet.

Two of the largest deviations was a 4.35 score by Carl Nelson in the K-12 experience compared to Baxter’s score of 2.55. Carl A. Nelson also scored a 4.5 on Construction Management Agency experience, where Baxter scored a 2.25.

“I want to publicly say that this board has engaged in a public and transparent process that you did not have to do,” Slater said. “The bond subcommittee or the board in its entirety could have simply selected a construction manager without engaging in such a public forum. You did so to demonstrate to the community your transparency and willingness to listen and educate yourself. That needs to be noted.”

The district used a $22 million project cost and 5%, or $1.1 million, contingency fund as the basis for the project.

Nelson came in with a projected fee structure of $2.143 million compared to Baxter’s $2.310 million. However, $550,000 of Baxter’s fee structure included a $550,000 bonus on remaining funds in the contingency pool. Baxter’s proposed bonus would have been 50% of whatever was remaining in the $1.1 million contingency fund. Contingency funds are typically 5%-10% for this type of project.

The district has had three failed bond referendum votes since 2016 with each attempt increasing in voter support. The last referendum in the spring failed with 59.24% of the vote. State law requires 60% +1 in a super majority.

Feedback the board received following the last failed attempt focused on having the athletic fields included, the total cost of the project, processes used to select the architect, and a lack of local participation.

Slater said a recurring comment was the district should consider hiring a construction manager to help manage costs and address using local companies.

The hiring is still contingent upon the bond subcommittee and full board approving terms of the contract with Carl A. Nelson & Co.

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