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North Medford High remodel scaled down

Higher-than-expected costs for bond construction across the Medford School District have prompted officials to scale down a project to revamp North Medford High.

Medford schools Superintendent Phil Long made the announcement early Wednesday at an NMHS staff meeting.

Voters narrowly passed a $189 million bond in November to construct a new South Medford and Lone Pine Elementary; overhaul North Medford, Jackson, Oak Grove, Roosevelt and Washington elementary schools; and repair and modernize 11 other campuses.

During the bond campaign, plans called for demolishing four buildings on North Medford's sprawled-out campus and replacing them with a new centralized structure with more space.

Long said engineering consultants have determined that while North Medford's wood surfaces are deteriorated, the buildings are structurally sound.

With bond project costs going up at other campuses, he said, the district will scrap plans to demolish any buildings at North Medford.

Instead, the campus will receive new roofing, upgraded heating and air-conditioning and a new water system.

The campus could also gain up to 20,000 square feet of commons space such as a larger cafeteria as a way to increase ties to the campus and teacher and student interaction, one of the school's main goals.

The exact scope of the project has not yet been determined.

A district facilities planning committee had estimated about $50.5 million of the $189 million bond would go toward the campus' improvement. Officials said they have not yet calculated how much will now be earmarked for construction at North Medford under the revised plan, which is not yet finalized.

Some North Medford employees and a parent complained that the new construction plan is not what district officials promised voters.

"This is going to light up the community fast," remarked parent Steve Plunk, who expressed doubt about the district's ability to manage a $189 million bond package during the campaign. "At this point, the district's credibility is in question."

Long said that the ballot measure did not specify what work would be done at North.

The committee based some of its estimates in part on out-of-date building assessments because district officials were not willing to accrue debt to commission new ones in case the bond measure failed, Long said. They were worried that if the bond hadn't passed, the public would have viewed new assessments, which districtwide could have cost millions of dollars, as a waste of money.

He also noted that district officials must adhere to the resolution, which calls for building a new South Medford. District officials also said they don't want to sacrifice elementary construction projects.

District publications passed out about the bond package before the election stated the project would involve demolishing some existing buildings and constructing a multistory building. It also stated that five other buildings would be upgraded.

Multiple factors contributed to the discrepancies between the committee's construction cost estimates and engineers' projections, district officials said.

The estimates the facilities planning committee included in the bond package did not contain a contingency amount nor adequate inflation costs, district Facilities Manager Mark Button said. Although 10 percent inflation was included in the projections, it accounted for only one year, and some of the bond projects won't be under construction contracts for three years, said Kent Stephens, district business director.

The committee also excluded costs associated with hiring a project manager to oversee some of the larger jobs and with selling bonds, Long said.

The two-year superintendent said he doesn't know whether the district's business office at the time the package was crafted ever reviewed the committee's estimates.

Longtime business director Galen Anderson and Tom Gaulke, a one-year temporary administrator who helped transition Anderson to his retirement, headed the business office at the time. Craig Anderson, who also recently retired, served as purchasing manager. None of them immediately returned phone calls Wednesday seeking details about their involvement in the estimates.

So far, engineering consultants have completed evaluations of five elementary schools, including Washington, Jefferson, Griffin Creek, Hoover and Kennedy, said Button.

Across the board, engineers' projections for construction on those schools exceed what the facilities planning committee included in the bond package, Button said.

The actual cost of the projects won't be known until the district receives work bids from construction contractors, he said.

"When the projects are bid out, the costs could be lower," he said.

Portland-based Mahlum Architects also has notified the district that the construction of South Medford High will cost more than anticipated because of market rates.

Reach reporter Paris Achen by calling 541-776-4459 or pachen@mailtribune.com.