Construction budgets back on track

Last month's decisions to scale back some aspects of the Ashland School District construction projects have current estimates under budget by $3.2 million. Now, board members are divided on how and when to spend the extra money.

The biggest savings came at the high school, with cost estimates reduced from $2 million over the original budget to $2.2 million under, said project manager Gary DeCock at Monday night's school board meeting.

Nearly $1 million of the reduction came from elimination of the new black box theater. As the project stands now, the drama department will continue to use the existing black box theater and use the metal shop to construct sets.

Some board members said they wanted to rethink that decision after seeing money left over.

"I still think we're creating a situation that's not ideal, and that concerns me, particularly when I see that we have additional funds available," said board member Amy Patton.

Because the scene shop would no longer be adjacent to the theater, she worried that transportation of large scenery would be much more difficult.

Board member Heidi Parker said she would prefer to spend the extra money on green and sustainable building practices, an issue that hasn't been fully discussed yet.

"Having sustainable buildings and design is really important to me," she said, suggesting the board consider those costs first. A meeting to discuss green features is tentatively scheduled for next Tuesday, Dec. 18 at 10 a.m.

Because only a small percentage of the overall budget has been spent so far, Superintendent Juli Di Chiro said the board should proceed carefully before spending more so early in the process. District staff is also projecting an additional $3 million in interest earnings from bond investments, but even with that extra money, volatile construction markets and materials costs could affect the budget greatly by the end of the process, she said.

Di Chiro noted that the current black box theater solution was in fact a sustainable decision.

"Sustainable practice is using what you've got and using it in other ways," she said. "We could have been using (the metal shop) as a scene shop probably since the theater opened. It's just no one thought of it. I'm sorry we didn't think of it first."

Also during the meeting, two members of the Oregon School Board Association presented the Ashland school board with an Outstanding Board Achievement Award, an honor only 10 percent of Oregon school boards have received since the inception of the award four years ago, the presenters said. As a prize, the board will receive a free half-day training workshop from the OSBA leadership department.

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