Most of the work done so far in relation to the 2019 DeForest Area School District $122 million referendum has involved planning and design.
That’s about to change, as the projects transition to the construction phase. The large mound of dirt at the site of the new intermediate school, now named Harvest Intermediate School, is a sign of the switch.
“We’re making Mount Windsor over there,” said Steve Gay, senior project manager with Findorff Construction, the firm responsible for building and renovation work outlined in the referendum.
Findorff made a presentation to the DeForest School Board on Monday, April 27, when the board also approved the sale and issue of $24 million in bond notes in connection with financing the project. The result could lead to big savings on interest for district taxpayers.
“The board locked in a 2.78 percent average interest rate last summer for the initial $90 million of project costs,” explained Brian Brewer, director of public finance for Robert W. Baird. “The average borrowing used for the illustration for the next $24 million to be borrowed this summer is 2.86 percent. If we are able to finalize at this rate, or better, in the next couple of months, the interest cost projection for the entire financing of $122 million to be repaid over the next 20 years is estimated to be lower than the original pre-referendum conservative planning estimates by $32 million.”
School officials and their financial consultants wanted to take advantage of current low interest rates.
“Despite the recent market volatility related to COVID-19, interest rates in the municipal bond market are near the lowest levels we have seen in the past 50 years,” said Brewer. “The board believes it is wise to position the district to take advantage of borrowing the next $24 million for the project at interest rates that are currently under 3 percent for 20 years.”
In pre-referendum estimates, planning was conservative, based on interest rates of 4.50 to 5 percent, according to Brewer.
Updates from Findorff focused on the new intermediate school, for students in grades 4-6, and renovation work at the high school. Sitework for the new intermediate school started in April, with construction due to begin in May.
“There is definitely dirt being moved on site,” said Findorff’s Matt Claggett, project manager.
Claggett said that at the April 27 meeting that work on the foundation would begin in a week and a half and that the project would start going vertical in July.
Asked by Board Member Jeff Miller how COVID-19 is affecting work and whether it would result in any delays, Claggett said the team is watching it closely as a company and talking about it daily.
Gay said there are no major delays at this time. Additional measures, such as installing additional handwashing stations and social distancing practices, have been undertaken. The company is also taking steps to ensure that no kids wander onto the work site.
Looking at milestones for the intermediate school project, the structure is expected to be complete by October and fully enclosed in December. Construction is scheduled to be finished by July 2021. A certificate of occupancy is anticipated in August 2021, which is when move-in is expected to take place. The plan is to open the facility in September 2021.
Something called “activation planning” will take place in October. Among the topics are the verification of everybody’s roles and responsibilities, the integration of key milestone dates, planning for training, start-up, testing and operations, and scheduling for receipt and installation of furniture, equipment and key amenity items.
Gay said Findorff did a similar session in Oregon and it worked well.
Turning to renovation work at the high school, Gay talked about how different the high school project was from the intermediate school because of the renovation work. It will be done in phases, with the first one due to begin in May and be finished in August 2021. The pool and fieldhouse will be done in August.
Then comes Phase 2, which starts in June 2021 and will be completed in March 2022, which is when Phase 3 – the north end of the school – is set to begin. Phase 3 is expected to be finished in August 2022. Design work is slated to be done by the start of summer on the high school project.
Improvements at Yahara Elementary and the Middle School are anticipated to be finished just before the start of the 2021-22 school year and the winter of 2021-22, respectively. Bidding for the work at Yahara Elementary went out this past winter.
Findorff officials detailed keys to the success of the project. Noting the proximity of the work to active learning environments, one of the main ones is to minimize any disruptions in educational activities, while allowing kids to see what’s going on.
Another feature of both the intermediate school and high school projects is that Findorff wants to have a youth apprentice from DeForest Area High School for each of them. Findorff officials said that one of the first youth apprentices they ever had was from DeForest and helped out with work at Eagle Point Elementary School.