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Hermantown school district set to choose construction firm for facilities plan

The Hermantown school district has hired an architectural firm and is days away from choosing a construction management firm for its long-range facilities plan.

The $48.9 million in bonds for new and renovated schools was approved by voters in November.

The district plans to oversee the project itself, as opposed to hiring a project manager similar to what the Duluth school district did with Johnson Controls Inc. for its Red Plan.

“We are the owners, and we will maintain control of the process,” Hermantown Superintendent Brad Johnson said. “A lot of schools do it the other way as well; it’s easier and faster. But we feel we have more control of the contracts, product and budget this way.”

TKDA, partnering with Wold Architects, has been hired to design the plans for the project at a cost of $2.35 million or less. TKDA is headquartered in St. Paul but has offices in Duluth and Hermantown, and has worked with the district before.

Four architectural firms submitted proposals. Also interviewed for the job were LHB Inc. and DSGW Architects.

Four construction management firms submitted proposals and three were interviewed, including Kraus-Anderson Construction Co., Bossardt Corp. and Stahl Construction. All three are based in the Twin Cities area. Johnson expects one will be chosen in about two weeks.

Johnson Controls was hired by the district for the first two phases of the project that involved planning and presenting the project to the Minnesota Department of Education.

The choice of that company angered some residents because of its controversial work with other districts, including its work with Duluth.

Considering Johnson Controls or any other company to oversee the building project went against the wishes of the community, said Greg Carlson, chairman of the Hermantown School Board.

The model the school district chose is also the most widely used for Minnesota secondary school projects, he said, and Hermantown’s plans are far more straightforward than the Duluth school district’s, for example.

“I don’t want to spend a lot of time comparing us to Duluth, but it is a key point,” Carlson said. “(Hermantown’s plan) doesn’t require a complicated model.”

The plan is to build a new high school connected to the old one, which will be converted to the middle school. The two buildings will share common spaces. An addition will be built onto the elementary school and fourth-graders will move in. In Duluth, several schools were closed and consolidated and newly built or renovated over many years.

The Hermantown district expects to save some money by not hiring a project management company. Johnson didn’t have an exact number because requests for proposals never went out, but he said it could be as much as 2 percent or 3 percent of the project. But someone within the district is needed to oversee things, and currently, Johnson is filling that post. Carlson said the district is considering options for further support.

The district also negotiated a 3.8 percent bond rating and was able to reduce tax payments by two years with the savings, Johnson said. The plan initially called for a 25-year tax impact.

Community members are still involved in the process, and are happy to see it moving forward, said Natalie Peterson, a member of Hawk Pride. That group was heavily behind the effort to pass the referendum and has had members on citizen advisory committees helping to choose the architect and construction firm.

“We’re headed in the right direction for what our district needs,” she said.

The sheer number of people involved in the process has slowed things down and made it difficult to schedule meetings, Johnson said, but “you get a good product and buy-in at the end.”

The weather would have hampered early efforts anyway, he said, noting several inches of frost need to thaw before any soil samples can be taken.

The elementary school, with its addition, is expected to open sometime in 2015. The new high school is planned to open in fall of 2016, with the middle school running in fall of 2017. The plans will become more concrete when a construction company is hired.

“These big projects take some time to organize and gain some momentum,” Carlson said. “But there is a lot going on and we’re getting a lot of help and support from the community.”