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Construction firms picked for Medford school projects

The Medford School District has chosen three out-of-town firms for work on the next construction projects in a $189 million bond package to overhaul district campuses.

The selections move along what is expected to be a four-year stretch of construction and renovation projects that will touch all the campuses in the 12,500-student district.

District officials said the firms were selected from a pool based on their experience and number of change orders and cost overruns.

Portland-based Milstead & Associates will serve as the project manager for most of the large projects in the district, including North and South Medford high schools.

Milstead has managed 18 school construction projects, all in Oregon, as well as other government, corporate and private building jobs.

NJRA Architects, of Salt Lake City, were selected to design Jackson, Lone Pine and Roosevelt elementary schools.

The district chose Skelton Straus Seibert Architects & Planners, of Medford, to serve as NJRA's local partners in attending meetings and submitting construction plans to city building and planning departments.

NJRA has constructed six schools and renovated or replaced roofs on 16 schools, all in Salt Lake City. It also has experience in construction of commercial and health care buildings.

Portland-based Opsis Architecture will design repairs to Oak Grove and Wilson elementary schools with Abell Architectural Group Inc., of Medford, as its local partner.

Opsis and Abell were previously selected to design Jefferson and Washington elementary schools.

In January, district officials chose Portland-based Mahlum Architects and local partner Ashland-based Architectural Design Works to design the remodel of North Medford and new construction of South Medford.

At least two local architects criticized the district for awarding the multi-million dollar projects to firms outside Jackson County.

"The Medford School District's $189 million bond was a big chunk for local taxpayers to bite off," said Medford architect Doug Snider, a part of the district's initial architect pool. "Part of the sales pitch for the bond issue, aside from the deteriorating school buildings, was the economic boost the design and construction would bring to the community. Now ... it is apparent that most of the front-end dollars will be leaving Southern Oregon."

Snider, who designed Medford's Abraham Lincoln Elementary and Central Point Elementary, said he expected to win the Lone Pine project, rather than NJRA.

NJRA has designed schools for the Salt Lake City School District. Kent Stephens, Medford district business director, was previously an assistant superintendent in the Salt Lake City district.

In a statement, Superintendent Phil Long said Stephens did not recommend or contact the Salt Lake firm to make a proposal for the Medford projects and did not work directly with NJRA when he served as assistant superintendent of the Salt Lake City district. Stephens was on the Medford district committee that selected NJRA.

Before the bond election, district officials lauded Abraham Lincoln Elementary as an example of the quality construction and durable materials they hoped to see in future school construction projects.

Bond election information pamphlets published by the district depicted the new Lone Pine school as a replica of Abraham Lincoln.

Superintendent Phil Long said Snider refused an offer to partner with a larger firm on the Lone Pine project, and "NJRA had the experience and track record that made them the best fit for these projects."

Engineering evaluations are under way to determine the scope of the projects at all the schools. District officials said some of the projects could change. That would likely include Lone Pine, which was slated for a replacement building. What changes will be made has not been determined, Long said.

District officials said their goal is to complete all the projects as quickly as possible to avoid high inflation costs. That involves hiring an architect and contractors who have a high level of expertise, in hopes that the projects will be done expediently.

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