Sites, costs for possible new school reviewed

If the Princeton school district should replace its grades K-2 South Elementary, the new school could end up on the nearly 55-acre site the district owns just north end of the city, and the project could cost close to $22.9 million.

School district consultant Pat Overom with Mounds View-based ics Consulting, Inc.,  presented that information to the Princeton School Board on Nov. 27. Overom and Superintendent Rick Lahn called the information “preliminary and conceptual” but nevertheless being sought as the board looks into what to do about building needs at South Elementary.

District administrators have been talking for nearly a decade about the crowded conditions at the elementary that was built in the 1954 for about 450 students and now has close to double that.

The district has made up for the lack of classroom space by gradually adding rented portable classrooms to the campus, which is adjacent to the high school. The number of those portable units has grown to 12 in recent years, and a number of issues about the elementary’s structure and utilities are coming to a crossroads, according to Lahn.

Lahn told the school board at the Nov. 27 meeting that the district is approaching a time where the taxpayers will have to either finance millions in repair and restoration costs, or replace the elementary.

Consultant, Overom gave a handout with figures for “physical deferred maintenance needs” at South Elementary, and they totaled $7.6 million.

The complete list of needs can be found in our online story at

That includes:

$240,000 for parking lot improvement

$60,000 for concrete improvements

$1,000,000 for roofing

$260,000 for windows

$80,000 for exterior doors and hardware

$423,616 for exterior restoration, tuck-pointing and sealants

$450,000 for flooring, ceilings, and more interior work

$240,000 for casework

$80,000 for interior doors and hardware

$250,000 for boiler plant improvements

$3,118,182 for ventilation/air quality upgrades

$220,000 for plumbing upgrades

$240,000 for control systems

$550,000 for electrical systems

$400,000 for technology upgrades

Overom also presented a cost analysis for constructing a replacement building to demolishing South Elementary, and his estimate for that was $22,884,798.

The construction subtotal came to $16,536,370, which includes an estimated $600,000 for roads and site access, a $200,000 allowance for water wells for domestic and firefighting use, and $250,000 allowance for sanitary sewer piping, septic tank and drain field.

The rest of the expenses beyond the $16.5 million construction cost would be:

$1,817,901 for architects, engineers/consultants

$330,527 allowance for building permit/plan review fees

$680,000 for fixtures, furniture and equipment for 850 students assuming some re-use

$400,000 for kitchen/other assuming some re-use of existing

$600,000 allowance for technology

$50,000 allowance for building security systems

$10,000 allowance for soil survey

$15,000 allowance for soil borings/tests

$35,00 allowance for construction testing

$60,000 allowance for commissioning

$600,000 allowance for demolition of 86,000 sq. ft. of the South Elementary

No cost for site if it is the land the district owns.

$80,000 by for storage, moving, relocation by owner

$70,000 allowance for reimbursables and other project-related costs

$785,000 for bond insurance, financing

$825,000 contingency allowance based on 5 percent of construction cost.

What else is involved

The presented list of deferred repairs and restoration would still not address South Elementary’s programmatic needs, meaning insufficient classroom, gym, cafeteria, kitchen, storage and special education space, Superintendent Rick Lahn and Overom pointed out.

Possible sites

Overom listed five sites that he and Lahn had looked at this past summer for review for a location for a South Elementary replacement and Overom quickly eliminated one he listed as site no. 2. Overom explained that at 15 acres, it is too small under state rules. There would have to be a minimum of 10 acres plus one extra acre for each 100 students, meaning a total of 19 acres, Overom said.

The other four sites listed were:

Site no. 1 – The school district-owned site of 54.9 acres; site no. 3 with 140 acres; site no. 4 with 65 acres, and site no. 5 with 138 acres.

Overom did not disclose the locations of the four sites other than the city owned one, which is north of the middle school. The reason for concealing the locations of the other four properties, Overom said, is to reduce someone speculating on land to drive up the cost when it comes time to purchase.

Overom’s spread sheet on the five sites had various categories of information to consider. One of those – general site safety/physical hazards – showed that only one site had such an issue and that was no. 4. The issue was that it was adjacent to a potential physical hazard. Overom noted that the site has a lot of wetland area.

Overom’s preferred site

School board member Jeremy Miller asked Overom which site Overom prefers among the five sites he listed.

“It’s merely my opinion, I think the north end land you own,” Overom answered. The north end of that property is “great,” is buildable and “aching to be built on,” Overom added.

There was speculation after the meeting whether one of the sites had been sold since the time of Overom’s report preparation. School board member Eric Minks talked to Overom after the Nov. 27 school board meeting adjourned about one of the properties possibly being sold.

When the Union-Eagle asked Overom on Nov. 29 if he knew of any of the sites recently being sold, he said he was not able to confirm that.

School board chairperson Kathy Kraft told Overom during the board meeting that questions have been asked about how much costs would be entailed for repairing South Elementary if the district was to keep it.

The physical needs, not counting any programmatic needs such as space, are approximately $8 million and the estimates can vary weekly as things come up, Overom responded. He mentioned the plumbing below the floor at South Elementary being an issue.

Water seepage

Water seeped up on the floor of classroom no. 121 in the north wing of South Elementary near the end of a school day in late October when there was a Halloween party going on in the school.

The water seeped out about four feet out from a wall, according to night lead custodian Monica Wolf. She vacuumed up the water, then applied fresh water to the wet spot and vacuumed again.

The amount of water that had seeped up was about two gallons, according to district building and grounds coordinator Keith Barlage. He said last week that he and custodial workers tried after classes were over on that Halloween party day, to determine where the water had originated. He said the test was done by pouring water into all the sinks at the school, but the leak did not occur again.

The likely reason for the water seepage, Barlage said last week, is that the plumbing is old in the 58-year-old building and its occupancy far exceeds what it was designed for. That, combined with unused milk being poured down the sink drains all those years can corrode galvanized pipes, especially weaker points such as where pipes are threaded together, he said.

The school was “packed” on the day of the Halloween party and with all the kids and a large number of parents in the building for the party, more water was going down sinks than usual, Barlage said. It could have been that something got down the drain and caused a plug, pressuring water to back up and find a weak point, he added. Then, when custodians tried to replicate the situation to find the leak source, the plug might have dissipated, he said.

“The building is old and wearing out,” Barlage added.

Overom, at the Nov. 27 school board meeting, said that when the Minnesota Department of Education is asked to sign off on a major construction project, including one to expand classroom, gym, cafeteria and kitchen spaces, it would do an analysis. It would want to know whether adding on to that building would be a wise use of money considering the deferred repairs, Overom told the board.

Overom noted that there is a general rule about how much someone should spend to repair something, saying that the repair costs should not rise to 60 percent of the value of the total asset. Should a person sink 60 or 70 percent of a car’s value into repairs, or should they replace it? Overom asked.

Time line projections

Consultant, Overom, also gave potential time lines when a new elementary building for grades K-2 could be ready to open, depending on various referendum scenarios.

He showed that if there was a referendum next May, the new school could open in the summer of 2015. If the referendum was next September, the school occupancy would be in the fall of 2015. A November 2013 referendum could mean an opening in the winter of 2015-16, wile a March 2014 referendum would mean occupancy in the summer of 2016. A May 2014 referendum could mean occupancy the summer of 2016, according to Overom.

Lahn said last Thursday that it is “highly unlikely” that the present board would set up a referendum vote date, but instead leave that to the board that is reformulated with some replacement members this coming January. The present board would likely not to encumber the new board and there is only one more scheduled regular board meeting before January, Lahn said.

If the new school board next year should get a bond referendum passed to build a new school to replace South Elementary and should choose the land the district owns just north of city limits, city sewer and water would have to be brought into it those city services are desired. Roads leading to the site would need major upgrade.