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Proposition P plans OK'd for three Mehlville school renovation projects

Renovation plans for three schools that could bring the Mehlville School District $538,255 over its Proposition P budget were approved last week by the Board of Education.

However, district officials believe that a Department of Natural Resources loan could lower the overage to $162,651.

Still, board members voted unanimously to approve the renovations plans allowing the competitive bidding process to begin for construction work at Point, Beasley and Blades elementary schools, and also permitting administrators to pursue a $375,604 loan with the DNR.

Mehlville voters approved a 49-cent tax-rate increase in November 2000 to fund the Proposition P districtwide building improvement program, then estimated to cost nearly $68.4 million. The Board of Education this fall approved a revised budget totaling more than $86.7 million for Proposition P.

While each school's renovation plan includes site-specific work, the majority of the Prop P work scheduled next summer for all three elementary schools is upgrading the schools' air conditioning systems.

Other work at all three schools includes exterior building repairs, electrical upgrades, technology infrastructure improvements and security locks improvements.

Dwight Dickinson of Dickinson Hussman Architects told board members he attributed the discrepancy between the original estimates and the current figures to much of the work involved in upgrading the air conditioning systems.

"When our engineers put those numbers together three years ago, they didn't go into it and have the time to really get up and crawl in all of those holes and get above the ceilings and really check it out the way you need to do it when you are getting into a project ... It's a lot of effort that goes into verifying the existing conditions and then having to work within those existing conditions to do those upgrades," he said.

Despite air conditioning being the "culprit," causing the projects to go over budget, Dickinson said the estimates weren't that far off from current numbers.

The McCarthy Construction Co. and Dickinson Hussman Architects estimate costs at:

Point Elementary to go $128,121 over its revised budget of $1,060,554, placing its overall costs at $1,188,675. Construction work planned includes the widening of an unsafe corridor and the construction of a building link that will connect sections of the building to each other.

Beasley Elementary to come in $215,908 beyond its revised budget of $1,001,877, with renovation work now estimated at $1,217,785. Improvements planned include asbestos floor tile replacement, ceiling tile and fixture replacements, wall painting, guardrail replacement and the patching of exterior front entry columns.

Blades Elementary exceeding its $1,226,029 revised budget by $194,226, with current estimates totaling $1,420,255. Renovations for Blades include the addition of drinking fountains, parking lot modifications and the widening of the entry/exit driveway.

But Randy Charles, assistant superintendent of finance, told board members last week that it is very likely that the district could avoid a significant overage if it applies for a DNR loan that is granted to governmental entities to help fund energy-efficient projects.

In all three buildings, he said, the district could replace outdated boilers with new efficient boilers, also eliminating the need for a heat exchanger that transforms steam to hot water. Mehlville has received verbal approval for the loan and Charles said he was comfortable the district would receive the money, if it applied for it.

Charles said that the loan works more like a grant because the district will be able to pay off the loan with the energy savings it will receive over the years.

He said the DNR loan could contribute:

$213,626 to Point Elementary, actually bringing the school $85,505 under budget compared to its estimated overage of $128,121.

$78,859 to Beasley Elementary, placing the project $137,049 over budget compared to its estimated overage of $215,908.

$83,119 to Blades Elementary, putting the project $111,107 over budget compared to its estimated overage of $194,226.

However, board Vice President Matt Chellis, questioned whether the DNR funds were too good to be true and if Mehlville really would see any of the money.

"With all of the state budget woes, isn't it likely that a lot of other school districts are having the same idea and going after these funds?" Chellis asked Charles. "Do you think enough of these funds will be available to cover our need?"

Charles replied that no other districts currently are applying for this loan money, noting that the DNR funding for the loan is secure because it does not come from the state's general revenue fund.

He said he has been in contact with DNR officials and they have told him the district would know within two weeks if the entity will grant the district the loan.

Charles told board members the district can apply for one DNR loan each fiscal year, but that loan can cover an unlimited amount of energy-efficient projects. For this reason, he said, with board approval, he plans to combine projects at Blades, Beasley and Point with boiler replacement at Oakville Middle School to get as much money from the loan as possible. Potentially, he reported, DNR could award the district $102,752 to purchase an energy-efficient boiler, causing Oakville Middle's work to come in under budget by $62,752.

However, district documents indicate the bidding analysis for Oakville Middle has not yet been completed and final numbers are scheduled to be presented to board members at their Dec. 15 board meeting.

Oversight Committee Chairman Chuck Van Gronigen reported to board members that of 11 committee members present during the committee's Nov. 25 meeting, nine recommended that the board approve the renovation work at Blades, Beasley and Point without reservations, while two recommended board approval with reservations. He said the reservations centered around the projected budget overages.

"From Dwight's (Dickinson) presentation, it was clear that the plan's recommended improvements were in the spirit of Prop P ..." Van Gronigen told the Call. "The bottom line is, until we bid the projects, we don't know really if we will come in over or not."

He told board members that once board members are presented with finalized bids, they will have choices they will have to make — but eliminating any of the proposed improvements would go against what the Citizens' Advisory Committee for Facilities recommended in 2000. It would go against the spirit of Proposition P, he said.

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