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Dreaming over, cuts commence

Ashland school officials are rethinking some of their plans for construction projects since nearly all of the estimates came back over budget, including a $2 million overrun on the high school project budgeted for $9.4 million.

"We told the design teams to dream, and they did," said Project Manager Gary DeCock. "When you actually get the numbers back, you have to adjust, but dreaming is good."

Most of the changes will result in a simpler architectural design, but prioritizing proved to be a difficult task because other suggested choices would affect the size and scope of educational spaces. The recommended list of cuts totaled just over $2 million, which officials said did not provide enough options.

"It's almost worse to say 'Dream on, dream on, you can have exactly what you want,' and then take it away," said AHS drama teacher Betsy Bishop. "When I build a house, I don't plan to build a $5 million house, because I don't have that much money."

Bishop came to the site design meeting Monday afternoon to lobby for the retention of a black box theater, which at a cost of $653,000, was the most expensive item on the list of proposed cuts. The theater was designed as an alternative to the new scene shop originally promised.

Other changes to the design include a simpler gymnasium entrance on Mountain Avenue, reduced ceiling height in the practice gym and music room, and deletion of the running track and balcony over the practice gym.

"I never believed the running track was ever going to be there," said AHS Athletic Director Karl Kemper. He gave permission to eliminate the gym while voicing concern over lowering the ceiling to 21 feet, because the 27-foot ceilings in the current gym already interrupt play during volleyball games.

Band Director Jon Soderberg-Chase expressed similar concerns that lowering the ceiling would affect acoustics in the music room, as could being forced to store music in the band room instead of a separate room in the original design.

"If I had to put priorities on things, it would be storage and the acoustics," he said.

The district gave architects a Nov. 16 deadline to consider new design changes and refigure estimates. Superintendent Juli Di Chiro said it was better to prioritize now, long before ground is broken on the projects.

"What none of us want to do is get closer to construction and then have to make changes," she said.

With the exception of the high school, the slightly high estimates are normal for this stage of the construction process, she said. Helman Elementary came in $167,000 over budget, Bellview Elementary at $128,000, and Walker Elementary $143,000 over budget. Ashland Middle School is the only major project under budget.

The elementary and middle school projects are still vulnerable to cost increases once projects go out to bid, but the use of Adroit Construction as a construction manager and general contractor for the high school project adds an extra safeguard against budget increases. Once a final price is negotiated, Adroit will bear responsibility for sticking to the budget.

The district also has $3 million in unallocated contingency funds and bond sale profits that can be used later on in the process, Di Chiro said.

"We don't want to have money left over," she said. "We want to spend it all, but we also want to be prudent."

The Helman, Walker and middle school projects are slated for completion in the summer of 2008, while Bellview and the high school should be finished by the start of the 2009-2010 school year.

Staff writer can be reached at 482-3456 ext. 227 or . To post a comment on this story, go to .