Vail Valley school bond projects presented ‘opportunities for innovation’
Crews finished $160 million in voter-approved projects in under three years
- Initial projection: $144 million
- Adjustments: $16 million
- Adjusted budget: $160 million
- Cash spent so far: $158 million
- Money remaining: $1.1 million
- Remaining to pay: $848,462
- Total budget committed: $159 million
- Money not committed: $301,159.60
GYPSUM — When you finish $160 million worth of school construction projects in under three years, you’ll have what industry experts refer to as “opportunities for innovation.”
In other words, most stuff goes right, some stuff doesn’t and you figure it out.
The school board recently received one of its final reports on the voter-approved construction projects up and down the valley.
“Things have changed along the way,” said Sandy Mutchler, the chief operations officer for Eagle County Schools.
Making the most of the money
In November 2016, after Eagle County voters increased their own taxes to pay for the projects, school district officials thought the bonds they’d sell would raise $144 million. They waited a few days for a bump in the bond market and their patience paid $14 million in dividends. They raised almost $160 million.
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“We were fortunate,” Mutchler said.
District officials decided to increase the building and remodel projects proportionally with the additional amount of money the bond sale raised.
“We knew we had the additional dollars. This was all done intentionally and spread out among all the projects with the same ratio in which the additional bond dollars would be spent,” Mutchler said.
The district pushed almost $160 million into the local economy in two and a half years.
“The initial estimates were conservative. As we realized additional money was coming, we intentionally increased the scope,” said Kate Cocchiarella, the school board president.
Sites, stones, and sawmills
Vail’s Red Sandstone Elementary School “was our most challenging site,” Mutchler said.
Lots of unknowns became known and had to be dealt with, Mutchler said.
The original $12.4 million project came in at $19.7 million. Construction crews contended with site improvements, roof issues, and a water line that became one of those opportunities for innovation.
Eagle Valley Middle School was initially budgeted at $25.8 million. It cost $26.9 million.
Eagle Valley High School was initially budgeted at $31 million. The district spent $33.3 million to expand medical training facilities, among other programs.
“We had a lot of great things happen at the high school,” Mutchler said.
Eagle Valley Elementary School cost $28.7 million, $4.5 million more than initially projected. Much of that was expanding the school’s preschool program, the parking lot and dirt work needed to deal with an abandoned sawmill that had burned down decades ago, and changed the ground under the school site.
Red rock wall
Eagle Valley Elementary School presented the most innovative opportunity. As the ribbon was cut to open the new school, Byron Haselden, the president of Haselden Construction, smiled like a proud coach as he wandered around the buildings with construction manager Dave Hanen, who lives about 500 feet from the school and had daughters in fifth and third grades.
Hanen and Jeff Chamberlin, with RLH Engineering, said one of the concrete forms in the elementary school did not perform as it was supposed to. They were faced with a pockmarked concrete wall that was, well … ugly.
They brainstormed all sorts of ideas when one of the crew members recalled the walls of Red Canyon near Wilmore Lake around Edwards, and how breathtaking they are.
So, they looked on Google Earth, and then some of their construction crew and a stonemason took a field trip up there.
They decided that, yes, they could replicate that. And that’s what they did.
The finishing touches are being applied to the $1.1 million Vail Ski and Snowboard Academy improvements. When that’s done, they’ll add some security measures and other details around the district to spend the remaining $301,000.
“It has been exciting to see what has been produced. We are so thankful to the voters for providing these spaces for our children,” Mutchler said.