Wichita school board members hope a new process for bidding work for the new Southeast High School will save the district time and money and could open more jobs to small subcontractors.
The board voted 6-0 Monday to proceed with a different approach, called construction at-risk management, in which the district will select a construction manager to work with designers before various parts of the project go out for competitive bids.
Kenton Cox of Schaefer Johnson Cox Frey, the district’s bond manager, said the process makes sense for large projects like Southeast High.
“Our goal is to be open in the fall of 2016, and that time frame is getting shorter and shorter and shorter,” Cox said. “We’re very concerned about getting it done in the time frame that was talked about.”
The board voted last year to build a new Southeast High at 127th Street East and Pawnee. Now estimated to cost nearly $60 million, it is by far the largest and most expensive project approved as part of the 2008 bond issue.
Opting for a construction manager instead of the traditional design-bid-build approach means the board will select a general contractor to act as the construction manager. The district will issue requests for proposals from possible contractors on Sept. 10 and interview prospective firms in early October, Cox said.
Instead of bidding the whole project at once, the construction manager and district will work together to bid various parts of the project – everything from concrete work to heating and cooling systems to floor tile.
“We potentially could have a couple hundred bids – every part bid competitively,” Cox said. “Think of it as a recipe with all the ingredients … and each ingredient will be compared against the overall control budget.”
Rich Kerschen, chairman of the Law Co. in Wichita, addressed the board Monday and voiced concerns about the new process.
“It was my understanding that … if we agreed to support the bond issue, that all of the projects would be competitively bid, using that delivery system,” Kerschen said.
“I would like you to consider the taxpayers of this community,” he said. “There’s only one way you can assure the taxpayers you’re going to spend the money wisely, and that’s to bid out the work on a competitive-bid basis.”
Superintendent John Allison said the new process offers “a greater level of transparency,” because each piece of the project is bid openly, as opposed to bidding the entire project at once.
Also on Monday, the board approved its 2014-15 budget of $683,881,537. The budget lowers the district’s mill levy, providing about $8 million in property tax relief, and includes a 2 percent raise for teachers and other employees.