Nearly five years after Wichita voters approved a record-setting $370 million school bond issue, local architects and contractors are reaping the benefits.
Eighteen architecture firms and 17 construction companies have landed work as part of the school bond issue, records show. The Eagle recently filed a request under the Kansas Open Records Act for information about money paid to contractors and architecture firms as part of work related to the 2008 bond issue.
Of the nearly $228 million paid through Sept. 5 for 70 projects, about $153 million more than two-thirds went to four architecture firms and five contractors, which designed and built several new schools or multi-million-dollar additions to existing buildings.
Among architects, Schaefer Johnson Cox Frey received the largest payout more than $4 million in architecture fees and another $3 million for overseeing the bond. Next were Spangenberg Phillips Tice and GLMV Architecture, each with nearly $1.7 million, and Howard & Helmer Architects, with about $1.5 million.
Among contractors, the Law Co. received the most bond money about $38 million for building the new Northeast Magnet High School and the new Mueller Elementary. Next were Dondlinger & Sons, with nearly $30 million; Coonrod & Associates, $25.8 million; Walz Harman Huffman, $25.3 million; and National Contractors, $22.5 million.
Some of those firms made some of the largest contributions to a group that campaigned in 2008 on behalf of the bond issue.
The bond issue the largest in the states history was proposed to pay for dozens of projects, including six new schools in high-growth areas of the district, storm shelters, $61 million in athletic facilities improvements and $17 million in technical education programs.
District officials said theyre pleased with the way bond issue projects have shaped up so far and how projects were distributed. They said the variety of projects which ranged from small-scale additions to new K-8 buildings and a high school enabled more companies to compete for the work and provided a much-needed boost to companies struggling through the recession.
The boards goal from the very beginning was to provide opportunity for businesses in the community, said superintendent John Allison. As you look at that how many firms were involved, how many different subcontractors for a period of time, we were the construction projects in town.
A lot of those contractors, without these projects, may or may not be here today.
Shortly after voters approved the bond issue in 2008, the Wichita school board hired Schaefer Johnson Cox Frey as bond manager. The companys fee is 1 percent of the total of the bond issue, or about $3.7 million.
The firm, which also managed the bond issue in 2000 and was the districts consultant on the 2008 bond campaign, creates project timelines, coordinates bidding, works with district officials and the bond oversight committee to keep the public up-to-date on projects, and helps develop district design standards that serve as guidelines for bond work.
School board member Lynn Rogers said hiring Schaefer Johnson to manage the bond and to design its two flagship projects the $31 million Northeast Magnet High School and a $54 million new Southeast High, which will be built on the same prototype made sense because of the firms size and experience.
Those who specialize in schools or have done a lot of schools, we got some really good work from them, Rogers said. There is a difference between designing a school and designing an office building. Certain firms are just better equipped.
After the plan manager was chosen, architects applied for projects by submitting a statement of qualifications and agreeing to standard rates set by the district.
Architecture fees range from 5 percent for new construction costing $8 million or more to 8 percent for additions or renovations costing under $500,000. The fee for designing Federal Emergency Management Agency-approved storm shelters there are 60 included in the 2008 bond issue is 9 percent.
Unlike contractors, architects arent required by state law to go through competitive bidding; district officials paired bond projects with interested architects based on the firms size, experience and track record, said Julie Hedrick, director of facilities.
The district wanted to use local companies, Hedrick said. They also considered special requests, such as architects who wanted certain projects because they had a personal connection to the school.
For professional services we can really just go out and hire whoever we want, so even having a statement of qualifications process is going above and beyond what is required, she said. We wanted to spread the work around and give folks who were interested an opportunity.
Schaefer Johnsons role as bond manager did not influence its selection as architect on several major projects, including two new high schools, two elementary schools and major expansions at North High and West High, officials said.
They werent on the (selection) team at all, Hedrick said. It was all district personnel that made up that team, so they didnt know upfront. They didnt have any advantage in that regard over any other firm.
Rogers, the board member, said omitting Schaefer Johnson from architects applying for bond work would have meant we probably would have had to go outside of Wichita (for several projects), and that wouldnt have been good either.
Kenton Cox, a principal with the company, said he and other planners made a conscious effort to divide projects so that we could provide work for both small architecture firms some of the one-man offices and the larger ones.
We are very appreciative of what we were given. We got eight or nine (projects) of the 80, which is great, Cox said. But were also appreciative that a lot of them were given to other people, too, from the littlest offices to the big.
Greg Tice, a partner at Spangenberg Phillips Tice, said bond work provided a boost to his firm at a time when private-sector projects largely dried up. The firm designed the new Dodge and Mueller elementaries based on the same prototype, as well as projects at four other elementaries and two middle schools.
It definitely impacted us positively, Tice said. We would have had to lay off three or four people if those projects hadnt come around.
Keeping it local
Local contractors, too, said both the 2000 and 2008 bond issues provided crucial work when the economy faltered.
The timing has been very blessed from above, said Bev Sauerwein, vice president for corporate services at Sauerwein Construction in Wichita.
It worked in 2000 when everything went south after 9/11, and here with this economic recession weve had, the private sector went so dry for several years, she said. Having the public projects with the bond issue has been good for Wichita, thats for sure.
Sauerwein Construction so far has received about $7.4 million for eight bond projects. The company plans to bid on more, but likely not the largest project still in development a $54 million new Southeast High School.
Thats probably going to be bigger than we can handle, Sauerwein said. Were a small, mom-and-pop shop, so having the (bond) projects pieced out has been great. It lets some of the bids to go to some of the smaller contractors as well.
Cox, the bond manager, said the varied scope of projects allowed a wide range of architects, contractors and subcontractors to get a piece of the bond issue pie. That, along with a desire to stick with locally owned companies, drove much of the way school projects were grouped, scheduled and rolled out.
We have tried to put an emphasis on keeping things local as much as we can, Cox said. You cant prevent somebody from out of town coming in, because were an open-bid process (for contractors).
So far only one project Christa McAuliffe Academy, a new K-8 school near 143rd East and Pawnee went to an out-of-town contractor: Straub Construction, based in Shawnee.
The bond campaign
The 2008 bond issue passed by the slimmest of margins less than two percentage points after a campaign punctuated by debates over the necessity of storm shelters, gymnasiums and swimming pools and whether the district would be able to staff the new schools and classrooms it had proposed.
Most donations to the pro-bond group Citizens Alliance for Responsible Education, which raised $187,000, were given in increments of hundreds or a few thousand dollars, according to documents filed with the Sedgwick County Elections Office after the campaign. The majority came from leaders of construction and architecture firms, engineering firms and subcontractors which is typical for bond issue campaigns, experts say.
Schaefer Johnson Cox Frey or its principals gave $29,400 in donations and in-kind contributions. Foley Rental and Clay Davis, of National Contractors, each gave $10,000.
Gossen Livingston Architects and McCluggage Van Sickle and Perry which merged in 2010 to form GLMV together gave $7,000. Spangenberg Phillips gave $5,500 to the pro-bond campaign. Coonrod & Associates gave $5,000.
Some companies, however, such as Key Construction, which donated at least $11,000 to the bond campaign, have gotten little or no work. It was unclear last week whether Key had bid on any school bond projects.
At Mondays school board meeting, district officials and bond managers will present an update on the 2008 bond issue, highlighting $90 million worth of projects in design or under construction and recommending a course for remaining bond projects.
Since the board voted in June to build a new Southeast High, only a handful of projects remain on hold: Robinson Middle School, Caldwell Elementary, Little Early Childhood Center, Sowers Alternative High School and a $10 million technical education magnet program.
Weve still got a ways to go, but we can kind of see the end now, said Allison, the superintendent.
Two years ago, when construction bids were coming in lower than expected and the bond issue was about $9 million under budget, board members unanimously approved a new auditorium and practice gym at Robinson, which would be substantially more expensive than renovations proposed in the 2008 bond plan.
Similarly, district staff and architects had proposed replacing an aging wing of classrooms at Caldwell Elementary in addition to building a new multipurpose room and storm shelter, as proposed in the original plan.
Recently, though, the district has grappled with losses of about $4.5 million a year in capital outlay money from the state and about $14 million in federal funds for storm shelters. That, coupled with rising construction costs, means we have to figure out how meet the desires of the community and do it with fewer dollars, Allison said.
Weve had to be pretty diligent in making sure we dont get to the end of the bond project and go, Oh, so sorry, he said. Its tempting when you come in under (budget) to use that extra $100,000 on this project or that project on the campus. But we had to be conservative and hold the line, knowing that over time there would be escalation costs.
In 2009, bond issue projects averaged about $130 a square foot. Today, the average is $160 to $170 a square foot, Cox said.
Thats double what construction cost at the start of the 2000 bond issue, when the district built Horace Mann Dual Language Magnet, a K-8 school, for about $80 a square foot, Cox said.
Right now it appears that we can do all of the projects weve envisioned in the original 2008 bond plan, though five projects were dropped and several scaled back to cut costs, he said.
Rogers, the school boards most senior member, said he remains satisfied with the management and course of both the 2000 and 2008 bond issues and the impact they have had on the local economy.
District officials and bond managers did everything they could to make sure we werent building Taj Mahals. They were building really good, basic school buildings, Rogers said.
Its helped the community and the economy, but even more, weve updated our buildings, he said.
If we had not done these two bond issues, our schools and our city would be in a much bigger black hole. Its leveled the playing field for our kids.