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A helping hand for hire

OXFORD— In 2009 the Iowa Association of School Boards (IASB) looked at the passage of the statewide penny SILO tax and realized school districts would likely go on a building boom to update aging buildings and put up new ones to address growth. In their words, in order to stretch those dollars to help Iowa students achieve at the highest levels possible, the Iowa Construction Advocate Team (ICAT) was formed. ICAT’s objective is to “ensure that every penny is spent improving the learning environments shared by our teachers and students.”
With the likelihood of a bond referendum next year for renovation of the Clear Creek Amana (CCA) Middle School in Tiffin and a potential new elementary building, the CCA school board of directors invited Estes Construction of Davenport– the IASB’s ICAT partnering firm– to give a presentation at the Wednesday, May 16, board work session in Oxford. Estes’ president Kent Pilcher and vice-president Richard Parades walked the board through the seven-step processes they recommend for both passage of a bond referendum and successfully managing a construction project.
Pilcher said the average age of school buildings in Iowa is 63 years, leading to many building projects across the state ICAT has been involved with. Currently, his firm is working with 13 districts, with two major projects in process. Estes/ICAT is also working with four Illinois school districts. Estes, Pilcher said, is a 40-year old company “deeply invested in our communities.” Community was a recurring theme in his presentation.
Presuming a September 2013 ballot for a bond issue, Pilcher laid out the steps he called a “journey to referendum.” First, he urged the board to spend a couple of hours in a work session with the Facilities Committee to determine which group (board or committee) will be responsible for which tasks, and who has the authority to decide what issues. In July, Pilcher recommends the board and committee have a kick-off event to get the ball rolling. In August or September, professionals would be selected to get the message out to the community about the need for the project, estimated costs, etc. September and October would be the time to choose an architect and construction manager. It’s likely that Shive-Hattery would continue with the architectural aspects while current district construction manager Ray Willoughby would be asked to continue.
In October through December the budget for the project(s) would be determined. ICAT, Pilcher explained, works with the district’s financing partner (Piper-Jaffray for CCA) to get the most for the dollars available. Pilcher said this point is critical to avoid designing a facility the district can’t afford to build. Also Pilcher suggests the committee really get busy forming what he calls a clear, concise and consistent message while determining opposition.
The spring and summer of 2013 would be a time of making the case for the bond issue and building community support. Renderings of the building(s) and solid budget numbers would be prepared at that time. Pilcher said the district has to be able to make the project make sense to the taxpayer.
Pilcher stressed the need for the district to build a collaborative process, involving as many aspects of the community as possible, and urged the board to listen and respond.
“There will be differences in opinion. There will be objections.” He reminded them to make adjustments as necessary.
Following a successful referendum, ICAT switches into an Integrated Project Delivery mode so as to create a facility which shows value to the taxpayer and becomes a point of pride in the community.
The first two phases are when dollars get committed and spent, and design work becomes more comprehensive. Board approval is the third phase, a point CCA board president Eileen Schmidt questioned. Pilcher explained if the referendum doesn’t pass, the first two phases are moot points.
The fourth step involves issuing the bonds and monitoring the budget with updates to it as needed. Fifth is procurement, or letting the bids and awarding the contracts. Sixth is the actual construction and administrative oversight, with the final step of occupancy completing the process.
Transitioning into a new facility also requires careful planning, and cautioned against a construction-weary school district rushing the move with the resulting chaos spoiling what should be a time of pride and celebration.
“This is a generational decision,” he said. Multiple generations will use the new facilities; some will feel a part of it, others will not.
Schmidt questioned Pilcher and Parades on several points including the potential cost savings of hiring their firm. Pilcher said the first three steps of the referendum process are performed free of charge. “If you’re well-educated we think you’ll hire us.” She asked again how much the district could save, and Pilcher said the savings could be 11.7 percent of the total cost of the project.
Pilcher said the presentation was not a commercial, at superintendent Denise Schares’ request. Schares added the board was not acting on anything at this time, just doing some fact-finding and learning about options.
“So you’re like the contractor, the ‘go-to’ person,” Schmidt asked Pilcher.
“I’d like to think we’re more than that,” he replied; his firm’s purpose is to keep the entire process on-track, he said. Board member Aimee Pitlick said the role takes pressure off othe administration, the board secretary and district financial officer.
“Exactly” Pilcher responded.
“We represent our community here, we represent our kids.” a somewhat skeptical Schmidt reminded Pilcher and Parades.
“Ask lots of questions,” Pilcher encouraged her.
“Don’t worry, I will,” she replied.