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Paynesville Press - June 20, 2001

Auditorium/Fitness Center dedication

New addition fulfills long-time dream

By Michael Jacobson

Auditorium   •  Fitness Center   •  Fund Raising
Outside new school auditorium The opening of the fitness center and auditorium this week culminates a construction process that began over two years ago and a dream for improved facilities in those areas that stretches back for decades.

"It's always been a dream that we'd have something like this," said choir director Cheryl Bungum. "Not just for the students, but for the whole community."

The open house for the new addition is scheduled for this Friday, June 22, from 6:30 to 9 p.m. with a program at 7 p.m. The public is invited.

An auditorium has been on building plans for at least 25 years, starting with a building project in 1974 that included an auditorium and renovations to the elementary school that was rejected. An auditorium was proposed with a new middle school in the 1980s (a project that also was rejected by voters) and in the early drafts of the accepted middle school project in the early 1990s. The auditorium was removed from the final project proposal, which passed. "There was always a greater perceived need," said Pat Flanders, school board chairman, of the auditorium's continued omission.

A better facility for lifting weights has been wanted by the athletic department for years, and the need for aerobic equipment is now needed in order to do units required by the Profile of Learning. "There has been great demand from the physical education department, the athletic department, and more recently from community members for a fitness center," said Flanders.

Passion for a fitness center was so strong that at one point community members came to the school board with a plan to build one for the school. "There was that kind of energy to have it happen," Flanders said.

"Basically every coach and physical education teacher came to the board and pleaded their case that, whether you like it or not, you need this to be competitive," recalled Flanders.

Construction history
This effort for an auditorium and fitness center started in February 1999, when the school board appointed a 20-member facility task force comprised of school board members, administrators, teachers, and community representatives to examine the needs of the school district and the community in these areas. A project proposal was submitted to the school board and approved in August 1999.

Flanders said the healthy economy, a growing trend for schools to build these types of facilities, and state equalization aid prompted the project at this time. In contrast to the past, when local communities had to pay for 100 percent of building projects, this project takes advantage of a state program aimed at aiding building projects. State equalization aid will cover 46 percent of the project.

A $3.4 million bond referendum for the project was held in December 1999 and passed 667 to 493. The local share of the project was estimated at $1.9 million.

Bids for the project were awarded by the school board in May 2000, and the construction started as soon as school was recessed for the summer, in June 2000. The project involved constructing new tennis courts to replace the existing courts (which sat where the auditorium now stands), making improvements to the ventilation system in the existing basement locker rooms, and building the addition.

The construction started with some surprises, as bad soils in the building site and damage to the existing foundation were discovered. "Contractors just stepped up and got it repaired," said Troy Miller, a 1984 Paynesville graduate who served as project manager for the architectural firm, DLR Group. "Right off the bat, contractors stepped up and got it rolling."

The dry weather and long fall helped get the addition built on time. "We had a late winter, so we got most of the masonry done without temporary heating," said Miller. "The weather was favorable."

The project was scheduled to be done in May 2001, and needed just a few weeks more to finish.

Project finances
The project finances which is a completely separate fund from the school's general fund that handles operating expenses have been tight since the start. Air conditioning was bid as an alternate, but was always a priority in the minds of the school board, which kept the $75,000 item in the project.

As the board and construction managers tried to find ways in the budget to pay for that, an $83,000 oversight was discovered last summer, further straining the finances.

In the past year, a lot of work has been aimed at completing this project on budget. The latest estimate had the project $50,000 in the red, but administrators are confident that the final construction budget which could be known by the end of July will be close to budget.

The district has utilized health and safety levies, a one-day bond sale, and project alterations to get the project on budget. Additional interest income from the bond money that didn't need to be spent immediately could get the budget close to targets.

Flanders is confident the project will end on budget because of the interest income and because the professionals worked hard to keep costs as low as possible.

Miller estimated that the tight budget increased his firm's involvement in the project by a third. "It's been a substantial amount of work," he said, but one that he wanted to get right for customer satisfaction and his personal interest in the facility for his hometown.

"I think it was more difficult because you want everything to be perfect," said Miller of working in his hometown. "And you put more pressure on your team to do that."

Miller feels the addition is attractive, functional, and economical. "When I look at the building," he explained, "it's very economical as far as cost per square foot. It's one of the least expensive auditoriums that we've done."

In addition, they built four tennis courts (to replace three), installed air conditioning and a heat recovery unit, improved the basement locker rooms, corrected fire code violations for exiting in the basement, and made preparations for future expansions. For instance, Miller said a wrestling room could be added as a second story on the fitness center, more backstage storage could be added to the auditorium, and an elevator shaft, but not the actual elevator, was installed.

The public should be happy that their money was spent wisely, Miller assured. "I hope it's a building that everyone is proud of," he said.

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