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School Board delays projects

The Medford School Board on Tuesday halted all construction planning for four school projects being considered for the chopping block as it decides how to balance the budget for the school district's $189 million bond package.

Board members said they want to know why prices have spiked to build a new South Medford High School, renovate the existing high school into a middle school and remodel Jackson and Roosevelt elementary schools.

"I am personally frustrated and disappointed with where we are today with the bond just as some community members are," said School Board member Larry Nicholson. "We're in a situation now where we are getting conflicting information as far as costs. We need to take a close look at these projects. What drives the cost to well over $200 a square foot for South?"

The board also will seek answers from project manager Milstead & Associates to why a project to build a new South Medford High at the intersection of Columbus Avenue and Cunningham Street drew the interest of only one contractor despite extensive efforts by staff to solicit more proposals.

The district's bond package, including 18 school projects, is now about $27 million in the red in large part because of climbing expenses associated with the $82 million project to build a new South Medford High, and structural deficiencies identified last June at Jackson and Roosevelt schools.

The board appears to be faced with either renovating Jackson and Roosevelt at a cost of $26 million to $28 million, or building a new high school at $82 million and renovating the old one into a high school for a cost of between $14 million and $25 million. The latter option would involve permanently closing Jackson and Roosevelt.

Board members, however, are still looking for other options.

A final decision is not expected before December.

The Medford board plans to hold a second public hearing on the proposals for cutting costs in the bond package at 6:30 p.m. Nov. 20 at South Medford High, 815 S. Oakdale. At the first public hearing Oct. 16, community members resoundingly decried two proposals that called for scrapping renovations at Jackson and Roosevelt and mothballing the schools. They were closed temporarily last June after engineers identified structural defects that could result in collapse during an earthquake.

"It seems odd to me that we haven't heard from anyone at South Medford," Nicholson said. "No one seems to be excited about that project. Why is that?"

Architects, project managers and district staff will answer questions about the projects at a meeting tentatively set for Nov. 27. The time and location have not yet been determined.

Board members plan to question them on reasons for cost increases on projects and lack of competition for the high school project, among other things. Only one contractor, Hogan & Associates Construction of Centerville, Utah, submitted a proposal to build the high school.

District staff members said a boom of school construction in Oregon could be the culprit.

Board members asked community members to submit questions they have about the projects by e-mail, mail or visiting the district's Web site at www.medford.k12.or.us.

In their decision, board members also will consider how the projects and grade configuration will affect any future mandate by the state Legislature to offer full-day kindergarten, any decrease in class sizes and any future growth in student population.

The district now has 1,000 empty elementary school seats, prompting the proposals to shutter Jackson and Roosevelt elementaries.

District officials have long sought to open grades 6-8 middle schools instead of the existing 7-8 configuration. That would require building a new South Medford and opening a third middle school at the existing high school site.

"Four years ago, we had a pilot program where we had the sixth grade in the (middle school) system that was very popular," Nicholson said. "We need to look at why we're losing kids at the middle school level, and how grades 6-8 would benefit students."

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