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Prop P, related work may total more than $86 million by 2008

Mike Anthony
Executive Editor
While the Mehlville School District's Proposition P districtwide building improvement program has a budget of $72.4 million, the final cost of the improvements and related projects could total more than $86 million through June 30, 2008.

District voters approved a 49-cent tax-rate increase to fund Proposition P in November 2000. Current estimates indicate the tax-rate increase will generate nearly $26 million more than is required to retire bond-like certificates of participation issued to fund the Proposition P improvements.

However, one scenario for funding Proposition P cost overruns and the costs of related projects estimates that more than $13.6 million of that nearly $26 million would be spent by June 30, 2008.

Under that scenario, which was presented to the Board of Education last week, the total cost of Proposition P and related projects would be $86,068,491 through June 30, 2008. When voters approved the tax-rate increase to fund Proposition P, the cost of the districtwide improvements recommended by the Citizens' Advisory Committee for Facilities was estimated at $68.4 million.

Interest on the bond-like certificates of participation issued to fund Proposition P allowed the construction budget to increase to $72.4 million. Current estimates indicate the 49-cent tax-rate increase will generate $170,165,506 through 2022, while the amount needed to retire the certificates is projected at $144,346,224 — a surplus of $25,819,282 in district capital funds.

In the scenario presented to the school board last week by Randy Charles, assistant superintendent for finance and the district's chief financial officer, $13,668,491 of that surplus in district capital funds would be spent by June 30, 2008.

To date, more than $5 million of district capital funds has been spent on Proposition P-related projects. The biggest expenditure of that $5 million in district capital funds has been $3.6 million for roof repairs.

Other expenditures of district capital funds to date include about $470,000 for site and materials testing, more than $380,000 for boiler room work at Mehlville Senior High School and Trautwein Accelerated School, more than $207,000 for permits, about $200,000 to Dickinson Hussman Architects, more than $83,000 for window treatments, $67,550 to relocate the Mehlville Senior High School offices during construction at that school and $48,806 paid to Titan Cleaning to clean schools and help prepare classrooms for the beginning of the current school year.

Given the fact that more than $5 million in district capital funds has been spent to date on Proposition P-related projects, Cary was asked whether the program is within budget or over budget.

"That's a good question. I guess it would depend on your perspective, but the things that we've gone outside of Prop P on were managerial and budgetary choices to do that,'' Cary told the Call. "Just as if Prop P didn't pass, we would make choices in how we would spend that capital budget ... I guess everything we've spent outside of Prop P we could have chose not to do, but we made a budget choice to do it.

"So I guess somebody could say: 'You went over budget,' but it was places where we felt like we could go over budget and accent or add to to make it a better project,'' he added. "At the same time, we could have made cuts in the projects to keep all that in Prop P. We just chose not to do that. So that's a hard question to answer because it all looks like one project ... To be quite honest, we've expanded Prop P somewhat as we've gone through it.''

District officials knew the board-approved Proposition P budget that projected more than $2.6 million for roof repairs would not be enough to cover the scope of the work, Cary said.

"Again a lot of this goes back to, and I don't want to point fingers at people, but a lot of this goes back to the (original) estimates,'' Cary said, noting that when those original estimates were done, the district lacked the money to perform a comprehensive cost analysis of the proposed projects.

"I think we've been pretty candid about the fact that the roofs as we tore into them were much worse (than anticipated) ... So I really think everything is driven really more by the problems we've had and then you make decisions. Do you just cut the project back or do you try to use your other resources? And I think we've tried to stretch things to use other resources and not cut the project back to have a very sustainable project for our programs when we're done with it,'' he added.

South Area Superintendent Tim Ricker, who will become superintendent July 1 when Cary retires, said, "And I think the other thing that needs to be brought to light is that the original CACF identification of needs for projects went to the $150 million mark. So part of the work that we did as we were planning these projects was to fulfill the original Phase One projects, look at any conditions that we could deal with along with through capital project funds and then the existence of some hidden conditions that we had to deal with.''

Both Cary and Ricker cited "hidden conditions'' that have come to light along the way as being a major factor in the increased costs of Proposition projects, not to mention code and abatement issues that they have had no choice but to resolve.

Renovation projects at some of the schools have uncovered conditions that are more cost efficient to repair now in conjunction with the Proposition P projects than to be done later, Cary said.

Citing the boiler room issues at some of the schools, he said, "Should that even be talked about with Prop P? Probably not. But we've made some decisions to fix it all together, to do the Prop P project and go in and face the other where it's more cost efficient to do it. Did that make us go over (the) Prop P (budget)? Well, from my perspective, no. But I'm sure there are some people who would have a different perspective — that you should have had more contingencies and those types of things and you're not staying within your limits. But a lot of that stuff, Prop P or not, was going to have to be fixed down the road out of the capital plan and we're just doing it now when it's going to be a lot cheaper to do it.''

Despite the problems and additional costs, Cary is pleased with the manner in which Proposition P has progressed.

"I think as construction projects go that I've worked with, and I've worked with many, this one has really gone very well, especially when you start talk about remodeling situations because those are tough, tearing into old walls, and especially when we've got buildings as old as Mehlville Senior (High). There are parts of it that are ancient and you just never know what you're going to uncover,'' he said.

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