When voters passed a bond for school remodeling and construction during last year's election, it was promised that the building would begin quickly and it would be on time and within budget.
This year voters who supported the measure are getting all three, and in fact some bonuses too.
Major construction has been taking place at two of the sites; Carbon High School and the new bus garage which will be located next to the district warehouse. The third site, Helper Middle School, has already had some work done, with major construction beginning this winter. But that project will have a twist. It will be very different from what was originally planned, a change that will result in a much better outcome.
“When we originally approached the board about doing something about Helper Middle School it was about upgrading the oldest part of the building,” explained Carbon School District Superintendent Lance Hatch, “The conversation was about remodeling the building to provide structural upgrades to improve the safety of the structure. The costs for making the building seismically sound, improve bus and ADA accessibility, upgrade the mechanical and electrical systems, and make other improvements inspired the school board to dedicate $10 million from the bond to Helper Middle School.”
“The construction manager and the architect said they were going to have to touch every room in the building to accomplish the renovation,” stated Hatch. “After seeing such favorable bids due to the low number of districts passing bonds, it became clear that the cost of new construction was dropping down low enough that replacing the majority of Helper Middle School started to make a lot of sense."
Hatch said that one major requirement for moving forward was that school would need to be able to continue in the old portion of the building while the new section was being built. After some consideration the school board gave the go ahead for the architects to design a new addition.
Now the design is in and it looks tremendous, with a new office and secure entry, excellent learning spaces, a wonderful cafeteria and new kitchen, a unique learning center, an efficient media center, a modern home economics area and an art room that will be second to none, with tremendous light and a beautiful view of Balance Rock showing through large windows facing that direction.
“Mechanically there will be air conditioning and heating that will be singular to the individual areas in the building,” said Kerry Jensen, Maintenance and Construction Director for the district. “Each area will have their own systems. The gymnasium and remaining classroom areas (all built in the 1950s) will also be getting rooftop units for that area. This will eliminate the old boiler system in the facility.”
Students will continue to attend school in the old part of the building while the construction goes on, and when finished, it will provide a great learning environment for the next 50-70 years.
“The costs to do the project were so far below our initial estimates that we are now able to accomplish this new rendition of the project,” said Darin Lancaster, Business Manager for Carbon School District.
Actually some of the initial work, that is already reaping benefits. has been done, including a new bus pick up and drop off lane in front of the existing building. That was finished in early October. This change has made a vast difference on passage by the school on Uintah Street during the hours school buses are present.
Hatch said that with the plans now firmed up, the bids for construction will go out in January and construction should start by late winter.
Carbon High School’s construction and remodeling has been flying along. The courtyard in front of the school now has been filled with concrete for the floors and steel is going up for the new part of the building. Jensen said that there is close to 700 yards of concrete that has already been poured and the next step is to get the structural part of the addition erected.
“They will soon be putting up the rest of the metal,” he said. “That will be happening in the next two or three weeks.”
Hatch said that reports from the contractor say everything is going very very smoothly.
“Once they are able to enclose it they are going to have a big crew work on it throughout the winter,” he stated.
But the addition isn’t the only part of the building that will see changes.
Jensen pointed out that the plan is to get the new addition done so that those spaces that host certain activities in the building now, can be moved and some of the old areas renovated.
“Next summer they will be remodeling spaces like the current library and the office area,” added Lancaster.
The new bus garage is also moving along, but there have been some holdups on that construction.
“It has slowed down a little because the contractor is having a hard time getting the metal building that is going to be used for it,” said Jensen. “The arrival of it has been delayed from August to September and now back even farther.”
As with many things in the economy right now, the metal structure is a victim of the COVID pandemic.
However the contractor has been putting in concrete, digging and placing the supports for the hydraulic lift and asphalt will be put in for the new road in front of the facility.
The buses have not been moved to the parking area around the district office at this point partly because the electrical requirements that are needed to plug the diesel engines in during the winter are not yet completed. That will be worked on in short order.
The bus storage and maintenance facility is being moved because the space where it is presently located by the high school can be better utilized as a parking area for the campus. There is continually a shortage of parking at the school and as the student population continues to increase, it is becoming more and more of a problem.
“As far as transportation goes we will continue to just do business as usual until everything is done,” stated Hatch. “And then the old garage will be torn down to create parking.”
Lancaster said the exact project costs haven’t been finalized yet, but the changes COVID has made to construction costs, both in terms of contracting and materials, have been the best they could have hoped for.
“The costs are very favorable for these projects. We are able to do more because the money we have is going further,” stated Lancaster.
Jensen said the school construction market is just very good for Carbon at this point too because there are fewer schools being built in the state.
“Only one other district in the state was able to pass a bond during last year's election,” he said. “Because of that contractors are looking for work, and we benefit from that.”