So far, building projects tied to the 2019 $125 million DeForest Area School District referendum are sticking to the budget and the timeline for completion.
“We’re hoping that by next school year, we’ll be on the other side of the pandemic and the community, and students in particular, can enjoy Harvest Intermediate School and the new addition at the high school,” said Superintendent Eric Runez.
Bids came in competitively from the start, and that’s helped the projects stay at or below budget, according to Runez.
With the exception of a couple of heavy rains that made the construction site for Harvest Intermediate School slippery, the weather has cooperated, allowing work at the high school and Harvest Intermediate School to stay on time or even ahead of schedule.
The district has been fortunate, too, when it comes to borrowing for the projects. Favorable interest rates have made it possible for the district to avoid paying $40 million in interest costs. That’s also allowed the projects to stay under budget.
Runez said he meets with representatives of Findorff, the company overseeing the projects, every week to go over change orders, and he said there hasn’t been a meeting yet where they’ve talked about delays.
Harvest Intermediate School, high school and COVID-19
The new intermediate school, comprising grades 4-6, is on track to open in the fall of 2021.
Runez said that project is progressing nicely, adding that the walls went up so fast.
At the high school, the gym box is enclosed, as workers have been able to do some assembly work inside. That leads to increased efficiency, said Runez.
Runez said that Findorff has been a good partner and he thinks they will deliver a great product.
There have been some issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic, despite safety protocols and precautions put in place by Findorff and the subcontractors.
Runez said that when he’s been on site, he’s seen workers practicing social distancing and wearing appropriate face coverings., especially when workers are getting within close distances of one another.
Still, he said there have been a handful of coronavirus cases. Runez said that the response was quick, with cleaning taking place immediately after discovery. Work on the projects did not slow down.
Completion of the Harvest Intermediate School project is expected to take place late next summer. The gym box there has also been enclosed. Joists and beams are up and concrete is being poured for floors, even on the second level.
School officials are in the process of identifying furniture needs for Harvest Intermediate School. Decisions on what to take over to the new school from furniture the district has on hand and on what to buy are being made.
At the high school, the new three-station gym and pool are on schedule to open in the fall of 2021. With high school students currently undergoing virtual learning only, figuring out the schedule for tackling interior renovations is proving to be tricky.
Runez said the contractor likes to lock in on an area to work on, and if students are brought back to in-person learning, that could cause problems.
With the new gym and pool for the high school slated to be finished in the fall of 2021, the rest of the interior high school renovations are expected to be completed by the fall of 2022.
Work at the track and football field, with its new turf field, are finished, as many fall sports at DeForest, including football, were moved to the spring due to COVID-19.
“The new field at the stadium is going to be extremely helpful,” said Runez.
However, Runez said the softball field still has to be reoriented.
Yahara Elementary, middle school
Original plans for work at Yahara Elementary have changed. Runez said more extensive renovations are necessary to make the facility more equitable.
The need was discovered during the design phase.
Runez said the work will still stay within the budget overall, thanks to the favorable bidding on other portions of the referendum projects.
Runez said it’s now looking like the renovations at Yahara will be finished by the fall of 2022.
The design phase for renovations at the middle school has just wrapped up, according to Runez. The renovation work is about to go out for bidding, and Runez said it is expected that the district will again receive good bids. Part of the project involves moving the district offices into that building, which will host students in grades 7-8.
In the end, Runez said all the work included in the 2019 referendum projects will result in DeForest “having some of the best facilities in the area,” he said.
If only the COVID-19 pandemic would relent, DeForest and other school districts everywhere could get back to the business of education with teachers and students together in classrooms.
“Based on what I’m hearing at the federal level, there is optimism that we’ll be working our way back to what we all believe is normal,” said Runez.