Elementary closures likely to be delayed

School board votes to extend Phase 1 project completion date through August 2024.

BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
PCC EDITOR

FORT MADISON – Volatility in the market for construction materials has forced the Fort Madison School board to delay the date for retiring Lincoln and Richardson elementary schools by up to a year.

At a special meeting held Thursday night, officials with Carl A. Nelson & Co., and DLR Group, updated the board on extended lead times for securing construction materials and presented them with two options.

The first option was to continue with the PreK-6th grade construction add-on at the current Fort Madison Middle School. That option would have required bringing in mobile classrooms for 7th and 8th graders who were to move to the high school starting in the fall of 2023.

The second option was to push the entire project back one year to allow for materials to be secured for the projects.

The board approved the second option by a 6-1 vote with board president Dianne Hope voting against the measure.

“I’m just disappointed. Very disappointed. I’m disappointed that we didn’t know this two weeks ago so that I could’ve gotten my head around it sooner,” Hope said.

“It’s a disappointment to our staff. We want to get out of Richardson and we want to get out of Lincoln. I’m preaching to the choir, I know that. It’s just been hard for me to grasp that we’re going to have another year in inadequate facilities.”

Board member Brad Menke supported pushing the construction back a year.

“I agree with your frustration, but we’re here for the future of the kids and if it’s one more year that we have to wait to get something perfect and right, I think it’s on us to make that right decision in my opinion. It is frustrating but good things come to those who wait,” he said.

“We’ve been waiting a hell of a long time,” Hope said.

Board member Josh Wykert also supported moving the project back a year. He said he couldn’t support educating students in mobile classrooms.

“I’m not for putting kids in boxes, trailers, whatever you wanna call them, when we have two perfectly inadequate buildings already,” Wykert said.

“At least their safe.”

Chris Smith, Vice President of Construction with Carl A. Nelson, said typical requests for these types materials are about two months out, but current conditions have those same requests now 10 to 12 months out.

But he said the work on the project will still be moving ahead and if the market rebounds the work could get done before the new August 2024 project deadline.

“What we’ve been seeing over the past several weeks is just continuous feedback from the market conditions that materials are becoming harder to procure – the labor market is challenging as well – and on things that we generally see on short lead times,” said Andrew J. Van Leeuwen, a senior architect with DLR Group out of Des Moines.

“A lot of these materials impacted some of our systems and a lot of those systems we’re finding and hearing and getting confirmation from the market that there are extensive lead times. So those traditional materials are getting harder and harder to find.”

Smith said the two entities worked together to try to find other ideas and materials that would fit the construction budget to keep the project moving, but ultimately nothing panned out.

“Honestly, I think reality has set in that all these alternative solutions and methods that we’ve been dreaming up that we thought were viable solutions, we believe were too risky for all of us,” Smith said.

“The problem is that if this was a house or an office building or something like that and construction came in a month or two late, it may not be ideal, but it’s not the end of the world. But you have to have places to put kids. So we thought it best to have that conversation with you now and not 8 to 10 months from now.”

Smith said he took responsibility for not bringing the concerns up earlier, including a school board meeting 10 days ago when DLR presented the schematic design and didn’t elude to any construction delays.

“My position has always been that we committed to a schedule and I’m gonna break my back to make this happen and we’re not going to go ask for extra time,” Smith said. “But I think it’s become apparent that it doesn’t matter how hard we try and how smart we think we are, we just can’t outsmart the marketplace.”

The board has already approved construction on the Middle School and the Fort Madison High School that will eventually have all Prek-6th grade students at the Middle School, and all 7th-12th graders at the High School with enhanced learning facilities.

At the Aug. 16 board meeting, DLR’s Nick Hanson presented the schematic design to the board and said in 25 months kids will be walking into the doors of the schools “and we’re all going to celebrate”.

Hope was also the only board member to vote against hiring DLR for architectural services. She also voted against Carl A. Nelson as Construction Manager on the project.

The work is Phase 1 of construction to move all students into the Middle School and High School and retire the elementaries at a cost of about $25 million.

The district has also put $186,000 into beefing up security at the two elementaries until they are retired.

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