School district starts prep work for new building

Published 6:15 am Sunday, November 4, 2012

WELLS — The United South Central School District has wasted no time since an election in August decided that a new school building will be constructed.

In September the school board interviewed three construction management companies, and chose Kraus-Anderson, a company based in the Twin Cities, though the team assigned to the project will come from the Rochester office. Superintendent Jerry Jensen said hiring the management company will mean a site superintendent will be assigned to the project who will act as an advocate for the school district during the entire project.

“They’re looking out for the school’s best interest,” Jensen said.

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Hiring the management company also means the project can be broken up into multiple bids, and the management company will go to companies, including local ones to get bids.

“A lot of contractors will be bidding on particular portions of the project,” Jensen said. “Hopefully they’ll be local; when you have local contractors I think they take a special pride.”

One big win for the district was finding out that lower interest rates on the bonds were available. Jensen said previous estimates of interest rates were around 3.5 percent, but the school was able to secure an interest rate of 2.84 percent. Over a 20-year loan that’s a savings of almost $2 million. The bonds have been closed on, meaning the money is in the district’s accounts and it can start paying bills when they come in.

Construction is still expected to start as soon as possible in the spring. Jensen expects to go out for bids in January on the first of three phases for the building.

“That’s still our goal to be breaking ground as early as possible in spring 2013,” Jensen said.

The goal is to start the 2014-15 school year at the new building in September of 2014. Jensen said it will be beneficial for students not having to be near construction during this school year or the 2013-14 school year.

“It’s totally off site so it doesn’t have to interrupt education,” Jensen said.

And the site it’s at has gotten just a bit bigger. Originally the school had intent-to-purchase agreements with Duane Johnson and Brenda Johnson, for 40 acres, and Dolores Weber and her children, for 23 acres.

“We’re looking to finalize those land purchases,” Jensen said.

Right now surveying is being done to find the exact legal descriptions on the land boundaries. As the board was working with the architects about to find the best layout for the school on the site, it was decided to buy three more acres from landowner Ron Gaines who is also Wells’ mayor.

“Now we’ll have a parcel that will be easier to lay things out,” Jensen said.

The parcel is south of Wells on the western side of Highway 22. It’s a good fit for the school because it’s within the city of Wells and already has a sanitary sewer and water line. With the site figured out, the board is working with architects to find the best placement of the school building, playground area, sports fields and parking lots.


Working with St. Casimir’s

Jensen said it’s important to the board to continue its partnership with St. Casimir’s Catholic School in Wells. Currently the two schools are right next to each other, so sharing busing and lunch facilities is no problem. When the public school moves to its new building there will be some things to work out.

Jensen said transportation isn’t too tricky to figure out and guessed that the students will still be bused together and one bus will take all the students to St. Casimir’s after they all arrive in the morning. In the afternoon, a shuttle will bring students from St. Casimir’s to the public school where those students can board the correct bus to take them home.

“The lunch program we haven’t figured out how we’re going to approach that,” Jensen said. “There’s options and we surely don’t want to leave them high and dry.”

Jensen said if the school is still interested in sharing a hot lunch program that they will have to work out a way to have a satellite kitchen or a shuttle bus to take students to the public school for lunch and back, among other options.

“We’re going to do everything we can to make sure they get what they need,” Jensen said.


Donation from Bevcomm

Bevcomm, an Internet and telecommunications provider, pledged $100,000 to USC in July if the referendum passed for the new school building. Jensen said the company has said they’re still committed to this pledge. Instead of using the funds for wiring the building or other technology-related building materials, the company has expressed that it wishes the funds will go to technology enhancements above and beyond building infrastructure.

“That’s exciting,” Jensen said. “Oftentimes schools are trying to figure out how to pay for those kinds of things.”


What’s next

The school board will continue to finalize the site layout with the architects. They’ll also start to look at options for the exterior design of the building.

“The architects have some really nice software that allows for 3D picturing,” Jensen said.

If the project stays on budget, Jensen said the whole project includes the new building, a bus garage, tennis courts, a track, baseball and softball fields and a football field.

Another possibility the school board is looking into is working with the county on management of water on the property. They have submitted a grant to see if they can secure funding for holding ponds so that no water from the property would have to be added to the county ditch system.

“We’re trying to keep it all on the property if possible,” Jensen said.

With all this work Jensen said it’s still the board and school district’s priority to worry about education for the students. But, he said, it has also been fun and exciting to work on the plans for the new building, too.

“The prospect of a brand new building for our students is exciting stuff,” Jensen said.