DeKALB – DeKalb District 428 schools are on the hook for $322,880 in additional costs related to renovations to the district’s Education Center, and school officials intend to pay for it using COVID-19 relief money.
The funds set for renovation are pulled from the district’s Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief grant funding, a pandemic-era federal funding opportunity that is funneled through the U.S. Department of Education and distributed through the state.
The school board voted 5-1 to earmark the funds at a recent meeting, doubling the renovation contingency budget for the district’s Education Center, 901 Fourth St., DeKalb, from 10 to 20%. The request was brought forward by Tammy Carson, the district’s director of facility and safety operations. Board Vice President Deyci Ramirez was the lone dissenting vote.
The Education Center renovation project has been underway since Nov. 1, officials said.
“There were multiple sprinkler pipe leaks that caused flooding to the building and made repairs necessary,” Carson said. “The roof top HVAC units were beyond life expectancy and also required replacement. The project consists of replacement of all roof top units for HVAC upgrades in addition to other renovations such as carpet/paint.”
Carson said renovations include reworking all ductwork in the buildings, work on thermostats, wiring, ceiling and lights. Plans also include improvements for additional walls to split larger spaces into smaller offices meant to accommodate staffing and additional work stations inside the building. Exterior windows will be wrapped, and improvements will be made to exterior canopies to address what Carson called safety concerns with the existing canopy structure.
Board Member Jeromy Olson questioned if the change orders for the project are necessary.
“Is this stuff that we absolutely have to have?” he asked.
Carson said project leaders found that, among other things, electric wires need to be cleaned up and put in at appropriate levels, windows need to be replaced, the exterior canopy needs to be removed and wrapped with an aluminum finish.
Olson pointed to the cost to address the exterior canopy and how it contributes to the need for an added contingency budget for the renovation project.
“I’m assuming that the change in the exterior finish is probably a significant bump in that total,” Olson said.
Carson replied, saying there is a significant amount tied to the exterior finish.
“Could we delay that?” she said. “Yes. When we looked at doing that as a separate project, it was almost twice the cost to do that because again, they’re there with the equipment and potentially again, use of time.”
When asked if the exterior finish on the canopy is an allowable expense for ESSER funds, Carson said the district has a back-up plan in the event that such spending is determined to be not permitted.
“Any expenditures that are determined to not be covered by ESSER will be budgeted from the Operations/Maintenance Budget,” Carson said.
The district had previously approved $161,440 in contingency to allow Montgomery-based Lite Construction, Inc. to make changes to the project, such as those to the doors, walls, added electric and other unforeseen things, officials said.
Those change orders included adding walls which include electric and data lines, removal of an old call box with wall repair, change to floor plan design in specific rooms, addition of work stations, and door and window removals with wall repair.
“Once you get into the ceilings and walls, you find things that you did not realize were there that needed to be dealt with properly,” Carson said.
The renovations originally were approved in November 2021 with plans to start in March 2022, but there was a delay before officials commenced work, officials said.
“After the project was bid out, the decision was made by Administration to delay the start of the project from March 2022 to November 2022 to allow time for staff to prepare to move into the temporary location,” Carson said. “In addition, moving in November versus March was determined to have less impact to the departments affected by the move.”
Carson said that with the delay, there were actually design changes that were made based on the needs of the district and additional staffing levels and various other things.
The original education center renovation project was approved at $1,614,400 with an additional $161,440 in contingency for office renovations, additional workstations, upgrades to electric, exterior wrap and exterior canopy renovations.
“I believe this may be my only project that I have come forth to the board asking for an increase in contingency money,” Carson said.
Carson said there could be some additional change orders that come along between now and the end of the project, which is slated for March 2023.
With Board approval, contingency funding has been approved to $322,880, which Carson said allows the project to keep moving forward and avoid potential delays.
“The approval is for up to that amount if needed,” Carson said. “It does not mean that that amount will be spent.”
The added project costs will be funded through ESSER funds, but a portion may be funded from the district’s regular operations and maintenance budget if needed.
Carson said she hopes the district doesn’t have to use the entirety of its contingency budget. She said she doesn’t want to delay the project any more than is necessary and prompt the district to have to lease Northern Illinois University’s space longer to house administrative staff.