Early work progressing on new Santa Rita campus

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By MIKE EDDLEMAN

The Liberty Hill ISD Board of Trustees on Monday digested the first of many monthly updates on the long list of construction projects on tap as part of the $98.6 million bond package passed last November.

Casey Sledge, the district’s new project engineer, hired in May to oversee the bond projects, spent time discussing how he planned to communicate information to the board and the public throughout construction, as well as providing some early information on the Santa Rita Elementary project.

“We’ve been trying to catch up,” Sledge said of his first month on the projects. “There’s been a lot of information coming at us, a lot of data collection, a lot of document reviews, a lot of plans. We’re not through everything just yet, but we’re pretty close now and we kind of have our arms around this.”

The first of five sections to be poured for the campus foundation is completed, and walls are beginning to be poured, as other utility work is being done across the site.
Contingency funds

The district has already had to dip into the $625,750 contingency fund set aside as part of the $27.2 million guaranteed maximum price.

A pair of changes, one with a subcontractor and the other with the City of Georgetown on water service to the site, will pull about $85,000 from the funds.

The project team has determined the original roofing subcontractor selected will not be able to get the work done.

“When you awarded that (bid) the assumption was made by the entire team, I believe, that the lowest roofing subcontractor should be acceptable,” Sledge said. “Since then, Bartlett Cocke has done their homework and this is not a subcontractor we think we should go with for a lot of reasons. The short version is we don’t think they can do the work and they really aren’t even communicating with anybody, they’ve kind of gone away.”

The new contractor selected had an original bid more than $100,000 higher than the low bid, but through negotiations, Sledge said Bartlett Cocke has gotten the bid down to a difference of only $55,000.

The City of Georgetown, in a review, came back saying there was a need to extend some water mains on the site to improve fire flow and the projected cost is $30,000. Sledge said in his review he agreed it needed to happen.

Trustee Clint Stephenson asked how it was determined who should be on the hook for the increases, and Sledge explained that up to $175,000 of the contingency is labeled as the contractor’s contingency to use as needed.

“Essentially, they get to pick what they do with that $175,000 and that’s exactly what they’re proposing to do,” he said. “They’re not hiding anything. If we had spent all of the money in the contingency up to the GMP (guaranteed maximum price), Bartlett Cocke would have to eat that difference.”

Sledge said he fully anticipates a number of areas where savings can be found through the process that will likely counter some of the contingency expenses and save the district money in the end.
Transparency

The project team, in conjunction with the school district, is planning a number of ways to make construction and cost information easily accessible to the community throughout the process.

“Starting next month we will be putting together our first full monthly bond program accounting report,” Sledge said of tracking the funds spent on the projects.

He also said there would be an online site with all the information on the projects for members of the community who want to know more.

“We are working right now, we’re about 80 percent done, on upgrading a public access site where you can go to the LHISD website, click a link and get into all the program files,” Sledge said. “This will be full of information and it will have the latest photos and things like that, but it will have all your site plans, and all your contracts.”

A regularly scheduled opportunity for people to come in and look at documents, ask questions and talk about the project is also planned.

“Essentially we will have a room where anybody from the public can come in, we will set some hours,” Sledge said. “Particularly we are thinking of people who maybe can’t come to a board meeting, to give everybody a chance to come by and see what’s going on with the bond program. I call it the war room because in the room you will have access to all the plans and layouts and what’s going on. If you don’t want to go on the website, or you want to come ask questions, this is where people can come interact.”

The role for Sledge Engineering is to provide oversight and look for ways to save more money on bond projects. The list of projects for the $98.6 million bond package passed in November includes one elementary campus, which has a guaranteed maximum price of $27.2 million – $5 million less than the anticipated cost when the bonds were approved – as well as a new middle school, renovations to the intermediate school and additions to the high school.

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