Members of the Riverside-Brookfield High School District 208 school board received an unwelcome surprise last week. 

As officials began finalizing plans for rebuilding the football stadium and constructing a parking lot and tennis courts north of Hollywood School, the construction manager hired by the school board determined the project would likely be about $1.7 million over budget. 

So now the cost cutting has begun.

On Feb. 12 the school board’s facilities committee met with its architect, engineer and construction manager for about four hours to crunch numbers and consider a host of ways to whittle down costs.

District 208 Superintendent Kevin Skinkis would like to get the cost of the project, which involves a new stadium, locker room building, parking lot and tennis courts, down to about $7.6 million which was the amount specified last fall in the memorandum of understanding (MOU) the district signed with its architect.

“We’d like to get down to the original MOU number,” Skinkis told the Landmark last week.

To do so the school board is looking for a host of ways to cut costs. The size of the locker room and storage building to be built under the bleachers will be reduced to 7,194 square feet. Reducing the size of the building to less than 7,200 square feet means a sprinkler system will not be required, which also will save money. These changes in the building are expected to save approximately $240,000.

The board likely will go with an asphalt shingle roof rather than metal roofing, which is expected to save about $100,000. Changes to doors and face brick used on the structure will be able to save between $125,000 and $145,000. 

The number of hand dryers in the locker room building will also be cut to save money. The school district’s architect raised the possibility of not heating the locker room building, but board members would not agree to that. They are, however, looking for savings in the heating and ventilation system.

The size of the bleachers may be slightly reduced and the architect is looking for ways to save on lighting. A separate garage to be used for storage will apparently be eliminated.

Other savings may derive from using plain chain-link fences instead of vinyl coated fences. And a savings can also come from eliminating sliding gates in favor of gates that swing open. Exterior signage and lettering on the football field may also be reduced.

Skinkis had hoped the school board would set the guaranteed maximum price for the project at the school board’s Feb. 24 committee of the whole meeting and approve bids on March 10, but that schedule now looks like it may be too ambitious.

“I don’t know if we’ll meet that timeline,” Skinkis said.

Bids will not be sent out until the guaranteed maximum price is set and that won’t happen until the architectural drawings are 95 percent complete.

“We haven’t finalized the design yet,” said Joe Papanicholas, the construction manager of the project.

The school board will send out a base bid and then ask for bids on a multitude of options such as the quality of the artificial turf for the football field and the surface of the track. No one will know exactly what the cost of the project and various options or upgrades will be until bids come in. 

The decision to build the locker room and storage building underneath the bleachers increased the costs of the building, architect Carrie Matlock told the school board on Feb. 10. 

Officials made that decision largely because doing so meant the district would not have to seek approvals from the village of Brookfield. The school district has sought zoning variances and a special use permit for the proposed new parking lot and new location for the tennis courts.

Board member Garry Gryczan was particularly upset about the rising costs of the project.

“Why weren’t we warned that moving the building underneath the bleachers would cost some much more money?” Gryczan asked Matlock. “I’m concerned about it. Why were we sold a bill of goods?”

Matlock said precise costs could not be determined until architectural drawings were more advanced.

When presented with cost saving ideas Gryczan noted that the changes were “cheapening” the project and warned that changes like an asphalt tile roof would lead to higher maintenance costs and shorter life span for the roof.

Board member Ed Jepson said he was also a little stunned when he learned that the cost projections had risen to about $9.2 million, but noted that unexpected and rising costs are par for the course in construction projects.

“My stomach got a little twisted when I heard the first numbers,” Jepson said. “We’re just going to have to make sure we’re spending our money as best we can and making sure we’re watching out for the taxpayers while giving the students and community the kind of facility they need.”

Laura Hruska warned of excessive cost cutting.

“I don’t want to change it so much that it falls apart in three years,” Hruska said.

Hruska noted that the district has the legal authority to issue up to $1.5 million in life safety bonds, which could be used on the project.

Skinkis, Matlock and Papanicholas agreed it’s fortunate that the school board has time to cut costs and make changes before bids are solicited. 

“This is actually a very good exercise, because we haven’t committed to anything and it’s not like we’re in the middle of the project and all of a sudden we’re finding out that we’re over budget,” Skinkis said. “This is actually the smart way to do it, because now we realize there are some things that need to be tightened up before we go out to bid.”

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