The opening of a new science and technology building at the Iola High School campus likely will be delayed until a few weeks into the new school year.
As construction comes down to the wire, the project faces several unexpected problems including delivery delays and a manufacturing defect in some of the floor tiles that had already been installed.
Those issues mean the building won’t be finished when school starts Aug. 18. Students and staff will continue to use the 1966 science building and cafeteria at least for a few weeks, Dan Willis, USD 257 board president, said.
The plan to replace the existing science building and cafeteria was the first of the three voter-approved bond projects to begin construction about a year ago. It initially proceeded very smoothly, even during the worst of the pandemic.
But the ongoing pandemic has put a hitch in deliveries, in particular. Some of the materials have not yet arrived, forcing the construction manager, Coonrod & Associates, to find alternatives or simply wait for items to be delivered.
Recently, the board learned of another unexpected problem. A manufacturer reported defects in flooring tile and put a stop to installation until the issue could be remedied. The tile had already been installed in two hallways and a classroom, so it had to be ripped out and replaced.
“There have been some issues, mostly in flooring,” Willis said.
Those delays mean the district cannot schedule a visit from the state fire marshal’s office. The fire marshal must issue a permit before the building can be opened.
“He won’t be able to show up until we have all our materials on site or in place,” Willis said.
He’s hopeful the fire marshal’s visit can be scheduled sometime around Labor Day, and staff will be given the “all clear” to start preparing the building for students after that.
Willis said all three of the district’s projects remain under budget, and any savings will go toward the new elementary school.
In some cases, the board trimmed costs for “aesthetics” such as awnings or columns.
“We did not take out what is necessary for student achievement. What’s inside the building, we never backed off on,” Willis said.
“Our expectations are pretty high. We don’t get to build new buildings very often, so we’re holding people accountable.”
THE “old” science building and cafeteria will continue to be used at least throughout the next school year.
There are multiple reasons for that.
First, it will be used until the new building is ready. Then, classes for science, robotics and Family and Consumer Sciences will move into the new facility.
Second, the building’s cafeteria will still be needed until a new elementary school opens in the fall of 2022. Currently, all meals for the district’s three elementary schools are prepared at the 1966-era high school cafeteria, then delivered to individual schools.
The new facility includes a kitchen, which will be used to prepare meals for high school students.
Administrators said it makes more sense to continue to use the “old” building’s kitchen for elementary school meals, rather than trying to adapt the new kitchen to handle the extra workload. It will be needed just for one more year, until the new elementary school opens.
Third, the district made an agreement with the ANW Cooperative to lease unused space during the next school year.
The Co-op will move some of its services to the “old” science building for $25,000. That lease payment is expected to offset the additional cost of using the building for another year, such as the cost of utilities and maintenance.
“There are a lot of expectations in the community for that building to be torn down, but a couple of board members want to know that it makes sense,” Willis said. “We are researching all the data before that decision is made.”