School board OKs project bids for upgrades

Work still anticipated to be complete on Phase 1 by August 2024


FORT MADISON – The Fort Madison School district approved close to $21 million in work for the district’s planned facilities upgrade at a special meeting Tuesday night.

Bids on the $33 million project came in close to 16% over estimates prepared by Construction Manager Carl A. Nelson Co out of Burlington.

Several bid packages that were part of the project were rejected and will be rebid at a later date.

The project is being paid for with bonds issued against the district’s projected SAVE funds (Secure an Advanced Vision for Education), a statewide one-cent sales tax allocated to communities with approved referendums. They are also planning to use funds from the district’s Physical Plant and Equipment Levy. Tapping into these existing revenue streams required voter approval, but does not require additional taxpayer support.

Carl A. Nelson & Co. officials said it’s a horrendous time for bidding in the area.

“Unfortunately, the bidder turnout and bid results weren’t quite what we were hoping for,” said Chris Smith, Vice President of Construction for Carl A. Nelson.

He said the firm spent several days contacting bidders to go over the scope of the packages and try to figure out why some of the bids were over estimates.

The facility improvements include adding space to the Fort Madison Middle School to make it a PreK-6th grade facility, as well as adding space at the Fort Madison High School to accommodate adding grades 7 and 8. The cost was originally around $28 million but that increased to $32 million after initial estimates in the current construction economic climate.

Carl A. Nelson separated the project into 17 bid packages and said more than 600 bid invitations were sent out to area contractors. Just 30 bids were received on the work.

“It’s extremely difficult to hit a budget right now. We tried to somewhat prepare ourselves and communicate this. The industry is just tough,” Smith said.

“We made several loops calling at least 100 people who we thought were good for this project. The recurring theme is ‘we’re just too busy to look at that job’ or ‘I’m not going to bid a two-year project when my material suppliers won’t quote me for even next month’.”

He said bidders were reluctant to enter into a contract without knowing the costs of materials.

“Plumbing and HVAC, as well as all these other trades, are just very difficult right now. We’re just chasing a moving target and nobody knows what their costs are going to be really even into the next week,” he said.

Smith said they really had no information for a realistic estimate on site work and utilities because they had no information from traffic studies nor approval on plans from the City of Fort Madison.

He said a storm sewer extension that runs from across the front of the high school out through the main parking lot and into the creek was never anticipated in the design phase.

The first two bid packages, which cover sitework and utilities, and site paving, each came more than double engineering estimates. Smith said the sitework bid is so far off because initial designs “had basically zero information” and the estimate and bid aren’t comparable as far as scope. Fye Excavating was the only bidder at $3.48 million compared to the budgeted number of $1.69 million.

The bid for the site paving was rejected and will be rebid.

Brockway Mechanical out of Burlington was awarded two contracts totaling $6.75 million for plumbing, HVAC, roofing and siding panels, while Mohfeld Electric was awarded the electrical, communications, and technology contract at $1.8 million. Industrial Steel Erectors was awarded a $2.2 million contract for precast and structural steel work, Carl A. Nelson was awarded a separate contract for $1.3 million for concrete foundations and floors, Gary Sanders Masonry was awarded a $1.1 million contract for masonry services, and Bi-State Construction was awarded the contract for general construction at $2.22 million.

Overall, the low bids for the base construction packages, including an estimate for drywall work which received no bid offers, came in $4.25 million over the newest estimates. Those numbers prompted the district to take off the 7-12th grade added gymnasium and locker room facilities.

With construction management fees built into the project, the base construction costs now stand at $27.3 million with Carl A. Nelson’s fees projected at $3.24 million, not including the concrete contract. DLR Group, the district’s architect on the project, is budgeted to receive $2.12 million.

Furnishings, fixtures, and playground equipment is estimated at $689,500. IT equipment, security cameras, and other electronics are estimated at $120,000. Professional fees total about $360,000 for traffic studies, inspections and permitting, and $65,000 for a site survey.

The total budget on the project without the new gym or locker room at the high school stands at $32,086,862, including a $1.3 million contingency fund. A value engineering goal of $600,000 was set for Carl A. Nelson to find savings on the project.

Smith said if the contingency fund isn’t fully utilized, it could be used to offset some of the $4.4 million needed for the new gym and locker rooms. They could also put in the shells for those spaces without interior developments at a cost of about $2.5 million. The value engineering could also create some additional funds.

Smith said the board could either approve the base bid packages presented or reject all bids and basically start the bidding process over again. The board voted 6-0 to approve moving forward with the base bids and rebidding three of the bid packages.

The board approved moving forward with the recommended bids 6-0.

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