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posted: 4/21/2017 5:30 AM

Tight budget looms for St. Charles school remodel

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St. Charles school board members got a look Thursday at the first full design for building additions and alterations planned for Thompson Middle School. And then they started looking for all the nickels and dimes they could save.

Board members agreed long ago to close Haines Middle School and renovate and expand Wredling and Thompson middle schools to save money while addressing a downward enrollment trend. They set a budget of $50 million to get the work done.

But that was before architects had a chance to sit down with teachers, administrators and other school staff members to design what the new classrooms and building layout at Thompson would involve.

On Thursday, board members learned the price tag of that completed vision: an estimated $49,963,000 -- and that number may grow.

Two unexpected factors will push the project budget to the limit.

First, because so much of Thompson Middle School will be rebuilt or added on, the school district must comply with a requirement put on the books about six months ago that forces the district to have a storm shelter at the school. That transformed Thompson's new gym into a new gym that can withstand an F5 tornado with 150 mph winds. It also made the gym a lot more expensive.

Second, St. Charles city officials have changed the calculations that determine how much stormwater the Thompson site is responsible for controlling to prevent flooding. The new Thompson must store much more stormwater, about 20,000 yards worth, than the current building.

And because there is no room to address the situation with an aboveground pond, the district must go the more expensive route of creating underground stormwater storage. That will cost about twice as much as district officials planned.

There is also a list of possible add-ons district officials would like. One example includes redoing the roof of the old portion of Thompson that will remain and get built into the renovated space.

"I don't want to put you in a situation where, a little while down the road, you need to do this work, and then people start asking why you need a new roof on something you just built," Schlomann told school board members.

But that project seemed to be a distant maybe. Instead, school board members started asking about ways to trim costs from the project, such as forgoing some exterior brickwork or switching to LED lights to at least create long-term savings.

There are at least three reasons not to be too worried about costs being so near the budget limit.

The actual construction contracts won't go to bid until late June. It's possible the bids could come lower than expected.

The $50 million budget also includes a contingency amount of about 6 percent, providing some wiggle room.

Finally, the design, with no additional bells and whistles, is already a hit with the staff.

Wredling Middle School Principal Steve Morrill spoke on behalf of the team that assisted with the design. He highlighted wider hallways, a much larger fitness room, a cafeteria that will serve more students in fewer lunch periods and the addition of natural light as key improvements.

"This isn't going to be the Thompson Middle School from 1925 any longer," Morrill said. "This has some great additions and improvements. This excites me."

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