Quaker Valley School Board rejected all bids that came in for the middle school saying the costs were higher than expected.
Part of the reason, board members said Tuesday night, was due to rising costs in fuel and materials, such as steel and concrete. Despite those increases, board members were still sratching their heads as to why the price tag came in well above the $23 million limit set by the board. Some even questioned the intentions and competency of the architect and project manager.
“To miss by the amount that they missed and to still have them leading us forward . . . this is one of the biggest misses I’ve seen in a bidding project this size,” said school director Mark Rodgers.
The district has been working with Eckles Architecture on a renovation plan to improve and expand the building in Sewickley. Quaker Valley officials have said this year’s enrollment is the largest since 1982 and that the renovations, which include better classroom space and building updates, were necessary to carry future generations for another 30 years.
The board voted 8-0 to reject the bids and the alternates. School director Danielle Burnette arrived after the vote.
David Pusateri, chairman of facilities and operations, said some of the costs boiled down to a difference in materials, such as $50,000 to $60,000 in savings by using aluminum wiring rather than copper.
School director Debbie Miller said she wasn’t trying to cast the blame on anyone, but wondered why, after months of planning, the costs exceeded original estimates.
“I have a big question mark above my head,” Miller said.
School officials opened bids last week and discovered the project costs came in too high, just days before a special meeting was scheduled at the middle school to discuss the proposed construction project and possibly award contracts. They canceled the meeting.
The project will be back out to bid in early May. The board also agreed to delay the current plans for the new athletic field and focus on the building.
Some board members worried that the delay in awarding contracts could further impede the project and possibly push it into a second school year. Construction is expected to begin in the summer.
School officials were hoping to stick to a general timeline to keep the project on track. Last month, board members approved changing the final school day to Thursday, May 26 to accommodate the construction timeline. They also warned parents and students that access to parts of the school, such as the gym and auditorium, would be limited in the last few weeks of school.
Some officials wondered Tuesday if they still could stick to the same timeline, while others said they felt compelled to try.
Pusateri said waiting to seek bids in the fall could potentially mean even higher costs.
During construction, middle school students in the seventh and eighth grades will attend Anthony Wayne School in the Ambridge Area School District for the next school year. Now, it appears the project could run into a second school year.
Superintendent Joseph Clapper said there was always a possibility that the project could take longer than expected to complete.
Middle School Principal Sean Aiken said “pretty much everybody” at the school had a feeling the project could end up going into the 2012-13 school year. It’s a disappointment, he said, but people at the middle school are flexible.
“I think right now people are prepared to do what it takes,” Aiken said. “I think they would like us to get the project right.”
Board members looked to school board President Jack Norris, who works in commercial real estate and has reviewed the project details. Norris offered some optimism, saying he didn’t think the project would take two school years to complete.
“I wouldn’t give up just yet, is what I’m saying,” Norris said.
Norris, Clapper and Pusateri plan to have a conference call with the architect and project manager to review the project specifications.
Revisions are being made to the specifications and the bid document structure in order to reduce the project's costs.
Norris said the goal was to reconvene the board in four weeks with a clearer idea of the project.
“The hope is to come back here with what we think should be done exactly right,” Norris said.