School board mulls math for project
The Riverview School Board will consider borrowing an additional $500,000 to $800,000 to cover the cost of renovations to its elementary schools after bids came in too high for a second time.
School board members also will meet with the project's architect to discuss potential cost-cutting measures, including reductions in the furniture fund and contingency account that totals about $250,000.
Concerns already exist, however, that the integrity of the project — originally estimated at $8.5 million — might be jeopardized if the scope of the work is scaled back further.
Work on the renovation and expansion project was supposed to get under way this summer and last for 16 months. But twice, bids came in too high — $9.4 million in May and $8.9 million in July.
"We've taken what were two line items totaling $600,000 and scaled those down to $360,000," said architect Dick Jaynes of N. John Cunzolo Associates Inc.
No award will be given for classroom furniture for now, Jaynes said, because the bid came in at $392,000 and the district had budgeted $325,000.
The school board could vote on the bids as early as Monday. The latest round of bids are locked until Sept. 21.
School board member Ed Saxon, who chairs the finance and facilities committee, said he wonders how much more can be cut to keep the original project intact.
"If we're looking at a third go-round, we're walking a fine line of whether we get to the point where the project is going to meet our expectations," Saxon said.
Superintendent Charles Erdeljac agreed, saying there are some cost-cutting proposals in the contract that he simply cannot support.
"We need to sit down with the architects and see what value engineering items would be foolhardy, in terms of being penny-wise and pound foolish," Erdeljac said. "I think we want to do it right the first time, because otherwise, we'll be saying five years from now that we should have taken out more money."
School board member John Yugovich said a tax increase might not be a viable option. He said that although Riverview is among Allegheny County's smallest districts, its tax rate is 15th highest among 42 school districts.
"I think we've just about pushed this thin as far as the public is going to accept it," Yugovich said.
Board member Anne Shearon, though, said she would like to borrow on the high end.
"You get what you pay for," Shearon said. "We have to be careful — we're building for the long term."
Board member Arlene Loeffler said she believes some cuts can be made.
Board member Mary Kay Stein said she is concerned whenever she sees such cost-cutting proposals as "less durable paint," which she said defeats the purpose of the renovations.
Board member Richard DiClaudio said he would be willing to look at spending additional money if it means maintaining the integrity of the project.
Bonds already have been taken out, and the state is expected to reimburse as much as 30 percent of the project cost over 25 years, which is the term of the bond issue. That works out to about $120,000 a year in reimbursements.
"We think we're going to have to borrow some more money, and by next summer, we'll be far enough along in the project to know exactly how much we need," district Business Manager Frank Thompson said. "And if we can get the state reimbursement, it's certainly going to be better to borrow that way."
Thompson said that if the district keeps the remaining money in the furniture fund and contingency accounts, there's still a possibility that school officials won't have to borrow extra money next summer.
Verner Elementary Principal Patricia Friday said there are "domino effects" in the proposed construction whenever "one thing relies on another." Installation of an elevator to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, for example, would disrupt three of the classrooms at Verner.
"As far as the renovations go, I believe that safety comes first and function comes next," Friday said. "There are areas of the buildings that need to be addressed."
Aside from wiring and plumbing that date back to the 1920s, Tenth Street Elementary School Principal Gary Winkler said one of his biggest concerns involves "substandard size classrooms," which makes expansion necessary.
Jaynes said many cost-cutting measures wouldn't affect the soundness of the renovations.
"A lot of these items being proposed are not quality issues — they are strictly aesthetic issues," Jaynes said.