Otsego schools hopes for bids on early childhood center

By: 
Ryan Lewis

Despite concerns of a competitive market to lure crews to construction projects, Otsego Public Schools remains on track to build its new, nature-based early childhood center.
After inking an architect contract last month, school board members this week approved a contract with construction manager Skillman Corp. at their meeting Monday, June 11.
Superintendent Jeff Haase said there was no official groundbreaking set at this point.
“We’ll see once we get the bid packages together,” he said.
The district, approximately halfway through the process of designing the project, plans to divide its bid requests in two. By end of July, requests will go out for site work. Then, sometime between mid- and late August, the district will request bids for construction.
“That’s a tentative timeline now,” he said.
Site work will gather crews to clear the land for the center and lay in utility lines such as water, sewer and electrical conduits, preparing it for the building’s foundation. Haase said the district hopes to award a bid soon and that work is slated to begin at the end of August.
“We’re looking at starting construction around the first of October,” Haase said.
Some on the board recognized the bidding environment might be an issue. Board president Scot Reitenour asked how the state and country’s shortage in skilled labor was affecting the market.
Skillman vice president Michael Kunelis said that while that issue was creating an unprecedented stress on the construction market, he was confident Otsego’s project would be desirable.
“We make sure the projects are designed properly; they will get the full scope of documents with the bid, and we have an aggressive and robust marketing plan,” Kunelis said. “And you’re a good owner to work with. That checks a lot of boxes with them to get them to bid on your work and makes it an attractive project.”
Otsego Public Schools voters passed a $6.96 million bond project last November to build the center and purchase new computers. The center is expected to cost an estimated $5.6 million and have eight classrooms. A partnership with the Kalamazoo Nature Center will provide a nature-based, hands-on math and science curriculum for the center.
Trustee Rodger Gibson pointed out the site, in the woods west of the main campus looked challenging.
Kunelis agreed but said the district had done all the right things to make sure it will work.
“We’ve done more soil borings since even that initial round and there have been no new red flags since then,” he said.
Construction is set to wrap up in fall 2019, in time for that school year.
Kunelis said that accounts for a “normal” winter.
“The other thing that could affect it negatively is if December is a lion of a winter,” he said. “We’re counting on it being normal without a tremendous amount of snow and bad weather.”
School board members also voted to approve spending no more than $523,475.20 for the first round of new technology.
Most of that money will purchase classroom Google Chromebooks for grades 3 to 5 and individual Chromebooks for students in grades 6 to 8 they can bring back and forth between school and home.
They will begin being rolled out to students at the start of next school year.
In addition to purchasing warranties for those devices, some of the money will update the district’s phone system and replace old projectors.
“We’ll be upgrading throughout the district,” Haase said. It will put the district in compliance with what’s known as “E911,” a set of new requirements for schools that have been long delayed in being put into place by the state but which are expected eventually.
“We are moving forward with making sure that every single classroom can be able to call 911 and then central dispatch can identify the room and building it’s coming from,” he said, noting the district’s own central office and that building’s office will also will be able to see that call’s origin and know an emergency is taking place.
“We’re trying to get ahead of that a little bit,” he said.
The district’s current projectors were put in with the 2003-04 bond when the new high school was built.
“Obviously with technology they’re starting to get a little outdated, so this is an opportunity to upgrade those,” Haase said. They will be replaced over the summer.
This round of purchasing represents roughly a third of the approximately $1.3 million in funds approved in last year’s bond vote. Computers for high school students are expected to roll out in fall 2019.
Contact Ryan Lewis at rmlewis@allegannews.com or (269) 673-5534.

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