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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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Peshtigo Board Considers Firms For Building Project

Issue Date: February 13, 2020

In response to findings of a number of CONNECT community input meetings late last year and school needs studies that were done intermittently over the past five years, Peshtigo School Board is once again looking into resolving some building needs issues by either remodeling the existing buildings and/or constructing an entirely new building to replace the old High School/Middle School building. They are looking at the possibility of putting a funding referendum on the ballot for the spring election of 2021.

Identified as district needs to be addressed by a building program are expanded space for flexible learning, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) classes, technical education, agriculture, home skills, performance arts, community access, and athletics.

Agenda for the board's regular monthly meeting at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 12 includes discussion and possible action on selecting a "facility planning partner."

At special meetings on Monday, Feb. 3 and Wednesday, Feb. 5, the board heard presentations from six different architectural/construction firms who responded to the district's request for proposals. The meetings generated scant public interest, and the half dozen or fewer members of the public at each of them included teaching staff members and news reporters.

Each firm was allowed 20 minutes for a presentation, followed by about 10 minutes for questions and answers, after which that set of presenters left the room and the next group came in.

Board members then discussed the presentations in open session and in some cases expressed their tentative preferences but there were no votes taken and the agendas did not provide for decisions. Agenda for the Feb. 5 session did include provision for a closed session discussion between the board and potential vendors, but the two and a half-hour meeting ended without a closed session.

The board may make a decision at the Feb. 12 meeting, or, as suggested as an option by District Administrator Patrick Rau, they could agree to ask the two top contenders to return for more conversation on what they propose doing for the district and what it would cost for them to do it.

The six firms represented at the two evenings of presentations were Blue Design Group, LLC, of Hortonville; Hoffman, the firm that had worked with the district on unsuccessful referendum attempts in 2015, 2016 and 2018; McMahon, all on Monday night, and on Wednesday, Performance Services; Bray Architects, the firm currently working on the Coleman School District renovation projects; and Keller, which has offices in Kaukauna.

They had all responded to a request for proposals (RFP) issued in December stating the Peshtigo School District wished to obtain proposals from qualified and experienced firms interested in working with them.

Listed as desired outcomes were to find a partner with ability to "build trust with stakeholders through transparency; create a building with flexible/functional learning spaces that will meet the needs of students and community members as our community, local economy and families transform through the next 50 years, and assist the district in the planning, communicating and execution of a building program as early as Spring of 2021."

Listed as evaluation and selection criteria were conciseness, responsiveness and completeness of the information requested, objectives, and deliverables as outlined; prior experience, qualifications, references, and past performance in K-12 settings; communication, engagement and referendum support; level of innovation and creativity exhibited in past projects to meet the ever changing student, economic and community needs, and fee schedule.

The Monday, Feb. 3 meeting started with the first presentation from The Blue Design Group from Hortonville. Between the two man team of Steve Romatz and Steve Jamroz they have over 60 years of combined experience with over 30 years in Architectural Engineering and over 25 years in the educational market.

The board was told they take a blue collar approach in every project they do, ""with a roll up your sleeves and get the work done environment." Every one who takes part is as important as anyone else. "As the owners of the company, we personally complete and oversee every detail of the project and pride ourselves on the ability to work on all projects whether it is with one person or multiple decision-makers," one of the partners declared. "It is an approach that includes input from all of the stakeholders in a project, which ensures that all of the client's needs or concerns are identified."

The board was told they have done a lot of school projects including Elementary, Middle and High Schools and providing safe and secure buildings is a big part of what they do, adding, "We think it is paramount that parent drop-off and bus drop-off are separate for ultimate safety." They also stated the biggest asset is themselves ""because we listen - listen - listen to the community and all of our constituents." Their process is architectural led and not tied to any contractor.

Their philosophy is "Know what you do, and do what you know" The public wants to know and see what the building looks like and we want the public to know what they are getting for their dollars," they commented, and added, "You will see us all the way through the process".

The second group of presenters were Hoffman from Appleton. They are a design to build company and told the board they want to make sure the process grows the community. Present were Jody Andres, Senior Project Architect, Rob Koehler, Project Architect and Mark Hanson, Director Of Sustainable Services.

At the CONNECT meeting, only one person talked about the buildings and all the rest talked about educational needs and updates of what will be offered in education, on of the speakers commented."We would take you through a process and have discussions, get it out on the table and move on. We understand the options, what is being proposed and how to get there." They would show virtual reality models, drawings and conceptual renderings and want the people to be part of the vision and excitement.

"We want education to be the driver and talk about what is wanted to happen whether it be remodel old or build a new building," they told the board and asked, "What do you want to see?" Suggestions included partnering with Tech School and working collaboratively with groups in the community.

Final presenters on Monday were the McMahon Group of Neenah represented by Mike Borski and Marly Gast. They are a full service engineering and architectural company that can add value for their clients, have access to all services and can provide grant assistance and surveys. They claimed an extensive educational background with strong ongoing relationships with clients with one single source communication contact. They stressed, "We are around for the life of the building and not just a short term but in it for the long term."

They have a three step program:

1) Conduct a needs assessment with cost estimates for deficiencies they find and feel that keeping four key items in balance are critical in moving forward: Program, Quality, Budget and Scheduling.

2) A Construction Manager that reviews the scope of services, supports the school district and evaluate with the school for the final decision. Phase II is to provide a need and create innovative yet practical options and convey the options, consensus, plans and renderings, and

3) Project implementation, design development, working drawings and construction and administration.

All three presenters focused on school safety, sustainability services, referendum assistance, grant assistance, energy savers and energy assistance programs. After the presentations, the board spent some time discussing the presentations.

Rau commented, "The challenge now is to find a group that will best engage with the community with results of the input and what is the best solution with the support of the community."

Board Member Mariel Carter added, "Whatever design group we choose, we need a facility partner to help engage the community and the public. The first step is the needs assessment presented to the community and what are we going to do to address these needs?"

First presenter on Wednesday evening was Performance Services, Inc., who stressed the importance of having a single point of contact for all phases, and promised "no surprises." They said because they do their homework, they can and do guarantee there will be no change orders once the project gets underway. They get competitive bids for construction, and are willing and able to carve out smaller portions of jobs so smaller local contractors can bid on the work as well as large out of town firms.

They promised to work with the community, school board, and teachers "to find out what your needs are and what your budget can handle."

"Teamwork" was a thread that ran through the presentation, and they promised: "We'll come in with an open mind, and find out what you want to do....Maybe we can fix the schools that you have... We don't know, but we'll find out if it can be done...If the decision is to build new, that building has to work for now and far into the future!"

The board was told the firm has a 25-member marketing team that has been through multiple referendums, and was told, "If you're looking at a referendum in April of next year, you're in a perfect spot right now." The speakers promised single source accountability, a clear understanding of goals, and a commitment to work jointly and collaboratively with Peshtigo people to design a superior K-12 project, and to provide complete marketing and referendum support.

In response to questions, the board was told the firm is probably one of the biggest suppliers of solar panels in the Mid-West and also do geo-thermal heat for economy in operating a building, as well as building an air-tight weather tight building in which classrooms remain the right temperature, and CO2 is monitored and maintained. They also include energy efficient lighting in shades that match the qualities of natural light.

The contract comes with a guarantee, and two years after construction is complete, before the guarantee expires, they come through for a final check to be sure things are working perfectly.

Board members commented on need for trust to be built in the community. The response was that their firm only does three or four major projects at a time so they can give each one full attention. "We go through everything and give you the biggest bang for your buck...We give you a design specific to Peshtigo."

The speakers for Bray described themselves as a medium-size firm that has focused almost exclusively on K-12 design since its founding in 1962. They described plans for community focus meetings, and told of several projects in which they used multi-phase remodeling to bring new life to an existing building that many thought was not worth salvaging.

In Black River Falls, they successfully got a referendum project approved where the seven previous referendum attempts had failed.

They cautioned that communities can focus too much on the arts, sports, etc., which have many advocates, and forget to be concerned about infrastructure. They focus much on energy efficiency.

In their mode of delivery, they do the design work, and then work with construction contractors that are hired by the school district through a competitive bid process. For the Coleman project they are working with Miron.

The Keller presentation focused mostly on what they would do to help get the referendum passed so they could move on to the design and construction phases.

As to building trust, "I will be there for you from day one through design, through referendum, and then through construction," the speaker promised. They proposed going to referendum in November of this year.

He said in planning, they need to listen to staff and students who will benefit from the project and develop goals based on a vision, which in turn is based on the Peshtigo School District's mission statement.

He proposed having the school board put together a facility review committee with 9 to 13 members, including some school staff, in February and March, and then starting limited community vision meetings. He said they need to be sure everyone understands the goals and solutions.

"We're not here to sell anything," the spokesman promised. "If there's a project that makes sense to the community, people will support it....We're going to put the information together, listen to the questions and get the answers by October...If people understand the benefits and the solutions, they will support the project."

He proposed having a kick-off meeting of the board to select the Facility Review Committee, and then give assignments and set goals at the regular March School Board meeting. He suggested targeting a referendum for November of this year.

The board was told their firm focuses on value, not winning design awards. They handle the entire project, from design through construction, ""so if there's an issue, it falls on us."

To questions from the board he said about 10 percent of their firm's work has been on educational facilities. They mainly have done commercial projects.

When asked about energy savings, the reply was, "It's a balancing act... generally adding energy efficiency adds to the cost in the beginning but savings come over the long term."

After the last of the speakers had completed their question and answer session and left the room, Rau asked board members to consider which firms they liked, which they felt they could trust, and which they felt their neighbors and friends would trust. "It's important to pick a firm that will work with the community," Rau declared.

One board member asked if they were open to all options, for example anything from demolitions to additions, and if they also would be looking at options for the elementary school, particularly at shop class access for seventh and eighth graders. She suggested building the new high school with a walkway connected to the elementary building so students can go from one to the other without going outside.

"I believe every option has to be put on the table and looked at and researched," Rau replied.

Long-time board member Steve Coble asked if anyone realized what would be involved in renovating the old building.

Teacher Mike Paquette asked the board to consider how big a school they need, especially since so many retired people in the last referendum objected to bringing students in from other districts.

Rau said Peshtigo needs added housing so the city can add to its tax base, "which helps everybody's tax bill." He said bringing in students under open enrollment brings added income for the district's operating expenses, which also helps with the tax bills. Several board members echoed that sentiment during the discussions.

Rau said on Tuesday, Feb. 25, Peshtigo Chamber of Commerce is bringing in 25 to 30 businesses and organizations for a business expo so students can see more of what Peshtigo has to offer, and the expo will be open after school for the public, to make other people more knowledgeable about the area.

High School Principal Chad Sodini commented that in the last couple of years the district has brought back more vocational classes, and mentioned business leaders at a recent meeting talking about kids going to school half a day and working at their trade half a day, learning as they go.

One of the board members commented there is a shortage of workers in this area. He noted that often kids leave the community right after they graduate, but then after they have families they want to come back, "and they will come back if there's a good school." He too mentioned that open enrollment pays for a lot of their operating budget.

"I want to impress on you how important it is for us to set up a process that includes everyone," Paquette declared. He noted some of the speakers selling their services looked only at the board, and not once at the audience, and felt that was a bad sign. He also advised the board not to say at the outset that they know what the product they want will look like....

A board member urged selecting a firm that "...will really look at the options, and not push the answers down our throats!"

Rau declared the planning will be a long process, and suggested aiming for a referendum in April of 2021 or even April of 2022. He was concerned that interest rates could go up if they wait too long.

Rachel Raygo, from the audience, thanked the board members for all the time they spend at conventions and meetings, "and for being out there talking for us."

The need for improvements to or replacement of the old high school in Peshtigo has surfaced repeatedly over the last decade or so. The last referendum was rejected by voters on April 3, 2018.

The proposal at that time was to build a totally new high school/middle school on a 27-acre property adjacent located across Trout Creek from the existing Middle School/High School and adjoining the Elementary Learning Center campus on the west. The district had purchased the property from the Zak and Gard families in June of 2015 as the location of the new school they hoped to build at that time.

A referendum that would have authorized borrowing $32 million for the new school failed by 64 votes in November of 2015. Subsequent referendum attempts failed in April and November of 2016, and then again in 2018, when the amount of bonds sought for the basic building, with a two station gym and all site improvements, was $29,960,000, and a second question on the referendum ballot asked voters to authorize an additional $950,000 in bonds to build and and equip an additional one-station gym for the new building. Hopes for a new auditorium had been brought up at citizen meetings, but the referendum questions included no provisions for an auditorium in or attached to the proposed new building. Discussions were that one of the gyms would include a a stage for performances.


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