School board makes tough choices on Measure B proposal estimates

Looking at more than $1.6 million in estimated fees for architect proposals on Measure B school facilities projects under consideration in Chester, Greenville, Portola and Quincy, the school board faced no easy choices Nov. 27.

The Plumas Unified School District’s Governing Board of Trustees called the special meeting at district offices to handle a few smaller tasks and devote the majority of the meeting to reviewing architect fee proposals received so far for 14 projects being considered at area schools.

All five of the trustees participated in the meeting, with Clerk of the Board Trustee Traci Holt joining by laptop from Chester. Trustees Dave Keller, Dwight Pierson, Joleen Cline and Board President Leslie Edlund attended in person.

Many of the fee proposals were on repair and improvement projects that are critical to the district, such as roof replacements, electrical work, school frontage improvements where busses and students come and go daily, and upgrades to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Others concerned master plans for an athletic field, a cafeteria remodel, replacement of floors, painting projects and what it would take to construct a multi-function gym annex, among many needs.

And these were not all of the Measure B projects that the district would like to fund, but they constitute a list of critical needs.

Cost estimates for the district’s architectural firms to determine the scope and needs on the 14 projects — before any site work could begin or time, materials, labor and other factors would come into play—ranged from $10,000 to $327,000 each.

If the current cost estimates to do the projects themselves were added into the discussion, including “soft costs” like permits and other expenses that are subject to change, the total estimated amount under consideration for these projects was listed at over $21.3 million.

Trustee Pierson asked for clarification about what is included in the “soft cost” estimates — which ranged as low as $45,000 and as high as $900,000 (both for vital work at Quincy High) on the information chart provided to the school board members.

“Everything that is not included in the ‘hard costs’ of physically building the project,” replied Oestreich.

“So, the ‘soft costs’ could be higher or lower than what we’re seeing here?” Pierson followed up.

Oestreich agreed, stating yes they could.

“Then we have to watch this whole thing like a hawk — especially the ‘soft costs,’” Pierson added. “And yes, we have to move forward on these decisions because with some of these things, we may be two years out.”

Adding in $8.8 million for Measure B projects that PUSD has already committed to for essentials — like updated classroom furniture, cafeteria tables, energy-efficient window coverings and other items long needed at the schools — the total approached $30 million.

Every trustee expressed concerns and reservations about the size of the estimated costs before them.

Trustee Holt said it was important to talk about “the big picture” of what Plumas County school sites need.

Trustee Cline commented, “This is the best estimate we have [of the costs the district is facing] and it accounts for two-thirds of our Measure B funding? Are the school principals OK with this? I think we need to take this information back to them and find out if they are still OK with this prioritization.”

Oestreich thanked the trustees for their “patience” with the process and said the district doesn’t want to experience what might amount to negative outcomes, so staff is working hard up front on the project estimating process.

“We’re learning also,” she told the trustees. “The principals have shared with the board what they want to have done and I predict that when they see these numbers, they are still going to want [to move forward on] their priority projects. However, there are still some additional estimated costs we don’t have, and we will get those for you so you know what you’re voting for.”

The board members were advised that the architectural firms are fine-tuning their own processes of providing information to the district, and that every month PUSD delays on this decision puts out by one more month the work that would get done next summer.

“How confident are we that these architects’ fees are going to stay as they are?” Holt asked.

Oestreich responded, “We have three architect firms, so some of the information we’ve gotten does include both architect fees and project fees, too, but others don’t.”

Faced with the possibility that original estimates of how much the district would spend in each community — and how far the Measure B funds would stretch — might no longer be workable, the trustees advised staff that they want to receive the same level of detail in each fee proposal they get, no matter which architectural firm is providing the estimates.

“I know we have to move forward on these things,” Holt said with a trace of frustration. “We do need to go back to our principals at the sites. We’re not even looking at some of the other things [they want] and we’re already at $30 million.”

Oestreich concurred that reviewing these early estimates of “what the board and district thought we’d be spending in each community” was part of considering “what we still want to spend the Measure B money on. So yes, the process should include sitting down the principals and going over it.”

At issue was whether or not to accept the individual estimates for the various architect fees, project-by-project, facility-by-facility.

“My view is that we have to get going on the heating projects now,” Pierson said.

The board went through each project — a complete list is available from PUSD by calling 283-6500 — and made decisions to either accept the proposed architect fees and move forward on these initial work steps or hold off for further information or other reasons.

By the end of the evening, the trustees voted unanimously to hold off decisions on $435,700 in proposed architect fees on six of the projects. They voted 5-0 to approve the remaining $1,197,900 in estimated architect fees for the other eight projects under consideration at the meeting.

“Tonight was a really big reality check,” Cline said during a break in the meeting. “We have roof replacements and electrical work that has to be done, for health and safety. You can see that this type of work is listed for every site, so we have to be committed. These are the things that are big, and we have to get rolling on them because it will take time to make them happen. These aren’t the easy things.”

Lisa Cavin, PUSD’s associate superintendent of business services, explained that the district might be eligible to receive some “hardship” reimbursement funding toward its needs.

“Best-case scenario?” Cavin said. “Maybe one-third of our projects could get up to 30 or 40 percent reimbursement for hardship. Maybe.”

President Edlund explained that the Measure B funding for Plumas County school facilities could amount to $50 million drawn over 10 years, and the district anticipates receiving Proposition 51 funding, as well.

“We knew we had problems [at district sites] when we went out for the bond,” Edlund said. “This proves it. Proposition 51 was approved by voters at the same time, and we’re in line for some of that money, but none of it has been released to schools yet. We know we’ll get some help, just not how much.”