“When will you break ground?” is the most common question that I field in Stephenville and our surrounding areas, with “When will the construction be completed?” following close behind. Obviously, these two milestones are the goal of every successful construction and renovation project, but even though much pre-planning went into the process that found its way on the May ballot, we still have more planning to undertake.
Three early steps are securing a contractual agreement for architectural services, selling the bonds that fund the construction, and deciding on a construction delivery method. These steps should be completed by the end of this summer. Obviously, there are numerous competent architectural firms that can provide services to the District, however the District has enjoyed a long-standing relationship with Huckabee Architects. Their firm was involved in some of the planning elements this past Spring, but only if an architectural contract is approved this month will they be the choice for construction planning services. Detailed architectural plans often take in excess of nine months to complete with a bid process of approximately two to three months. Groundbreaking could realistically occur by May of 2019.
Another decision that faces the board of trustees is the structure and timing of selling the bonds approved in May. Several options have been considered, including time horizons of fifteen, twenty, twenty-five, and thirty years as well as selling them now or when they are needed prior to construction. Information regarding the expected tax and interest rate was communicated to the voters assuming a thirty-year horizon; however, if interest rates come in lower than expected, an option of shortening the timeline could be considered.
The final consideration, usually made earlier rather than later, concerns the construction delivery method. Several options regarding risk, bidding methods, and roles of the construction management team are possible. During the Central and Chamberlin projects, the method of Construction Manager At-Risk was approved, but bids were more than anticipated, and the method was changed to Competitive Sealed Proposals and rebid. This process resulted in changes to the pricing structure, which brought the project back under budget.
Due to the mixed structure of this proposal with new construction and renovation projects, a staggered approach is under consideration. After the new construction pieces are completed, students will then move out of the areas targeted for renovation and into the new buildings. The new construction should be completed a year after groundbreaking with renovations to be accomplished the subsequent year. In total, the process from beginning to end should be completed by the Summer of 2021.
Matt Underwood is the Stephenville ISD superintendent.