High school plan may shrink to suit Lockwood taxpayers

LOCKWOOD — Between dreams and reality there is usually a dousing of cold water, and that was what Lockwood School Board members met in the first round of numbers, dollars and cents, given to them by the architects of Collaborative Design on Friday.

In presenting preliminary plans that would include “everything you wanted,” and “everything generously” allowed for, designers presented numbers that were about 30 percent more than the board hopes a new high school will cost. At least, Superintendent Tobin Novasio said that is how much he believed the plans and proposed budget would have to be trimmed to meet what he believes voter acceptance might be.

Conversation then focused on what could be left out, pared down or modified to reduce costs, as board members serving on the building committee set about giving architects direction on how to refine the plans for a proposed high school.

The architects are more under the gun to complete plans and have a cost estimate than initially thought. Novasio announced that in setting the initial schedule for completion for the end of February, he was not aware that the Legislature had changed the law to require 70 days notice before a bond election. “That moves up our time schedule a few days,” he said. The information for a bond levy will have to be submitted to the Elections Office by Feb. 27, so a special board meeting will have to be held on Feb. 26 to approve it.

Novasio said that they are working on ballot language and are arranging meetings with bond consultants at D.A. Davidson.

He also noted that East Helena is going through much the same process, but is somewhat ahead of Lockwood. East Helena is proposing to build a smaller facility and its estimate is set at $29.5 million.

Nick Pancheau, who heads the Collaborative Design team, said that they were “throwing out big numbers” that would cover the cost of building a structure designed to national standards, provide the maximum amount of parking, a three-story structure, with auditorium, two gyms, stadium and vo-ag building, amounting to some 160,000 square feet. “It would be a compact, tall building.”

“This is where you have to balance cost with what you think the taxpayers are willing to accept,” said Pancheau.

Novasio said that he thought he wanted to keep the proposed cost to around $40 million because that is the number he has consistently used in talking to voters in the district, which would amount to about a 100-mill levy.

“It’s going to cost north of $40 million no matter what you do,” projected one architect.

Last week, the building committee directed Collaborative Design to focus on developing a plan using the property already owned by Lockwood School, adjacent to the existing campus. The team had spent the first few weeks exploring other possible locations in the community, all of which would have cost at least $1 million more in site development than the 25 acres at the school.

The architects said that they have collected data regarding actual building costs experienced in some of the most recent school projects in the area, which ran about $205 per square foot, which is generally in keeping with national average figures. Other costs involve off-site costs, such as alternations to the road, parking lot development, which can quickly amount to $5 million, a $4.5 million 3,822-seat stadium, “soft costs” for design, permits and administration, and furniture, fixture and equipment costs. And, security issues, which were given much attention, also mount quickly in costs.

The proposal presented allowed for the possibility of a three-story, 30,000 square foot addition at some point in the future to accommodate potential growth. The board members pondered that the school size could be scaled down to meet more current needs given the possibility for future expansion. Lockwood projects having about 500 high school students. The plans are for 700 students. Perhaps it could be designed for 600 students, which demographic reports say will take Lockwood about 15 years to reach.

Other possibilities discussed were to reduce the number of basketball courts, proposed as four in the plan, To eliminate the stadium, to reduce the size of the auditorium or reduce the amount of parking, currently projected at 750 spaces.

In general, the board seemed to agree they wanted to “take space out of everything” as a first step in paring down the cost. One architect said that reducing the space of the building by 15 percent would save about $5 million.

Pancheau said that they will have more details and a more complete schematic of the proposed school at the next public input meeting, Feb. 7, 6-8 p.m., at the Lockwood School Administration Building.

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