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Ashland will scale back 'dream' school projects

Ashland school officials are rethinking some of their plans for construction projects since nearly all estimates came back over budget, including a $2 million overrun on high school projects 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 simpler architectural designs, 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 Betsy Bishop, a drama teacher at Ashland High School. "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 $653,000 theater, which was the most expensive item on the list of proposed cuts. Other changes include a simpler gymnasium entrance on Mountain Avenue, reduced ceiling height in the practice gym and music room, and eliminating a running track and balcony over the practice gym.

The district gave architects a Nov. 16 deadline to consider the 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 over budget, 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 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."

Julie French is a writer for the Ashland Daily Tidings. She can be reached at 482-3456, Ext. 227 or jfrench@dailytidings.com.