Monticello High School

The original section of Monticello High School.

A second of three anticipated bids has been approved for the Monticello school construction project, but the largest one by far for the estimated $33.2 million worth of work is still around the corner.

School board members on March 27 approved a bid from Iowa-based Midwest Precast Concrete for panels that will be prefabricated for the walls of the new gym, classroom addition at Washington Elementary, and the new mechanical room on the east side of the high school.

Midwest Precast's base bid of $2,047,000 was about $200,000 over budget, but $71,000 of that was lopped off by changing the style of insulation, lowering the cost to $1,976,700. Another $23,000 may be saved with the elimination of some brick from the new mechanical room walls.

Along with an asbestos abatement bid of $225,000 approved March 14, about $2.2 million in bids have been approved for the project. Next up are bids for the remainder of the project, which includes the new science lab wing and extensive renovation of the high school, which has an original build date of 1923. The bid opening for that will be April 11, with the school board scheduled to consider those quotes on April 17.

Brick order backlog

The precast panels being used for the new gym and classrooms are currently designed to include thin pieces of brick embedded to give the outer portion of the structures style and texture, but the only brick that architects have found that match existing buildings are on a three-month back order. That will likely set back the start of gym construction six to 10 weeks this fall.

“Part of this is the construction economy is booming right now all over the nation, so these precasters get backed up,” said Chris Uhlarik, the CEO of Petre-Kuhne, the firm managing the construction. “So we need to get right on this.”

Bruce Maxey of BLDD Architects said a search for more readily available brick is not finding a good match for the existing architecture of the high school/Washington campus, where the work will take place.

In holding up two brick alternatives, he admitted, “neither of them is very close.”

Another option would be to eliminate the brick altogether, going with all concrete panels that would feature etched lines and some portions infused with colored stain to give it the look of brick and masonry.

But School Board President Gary Huisinga thought it would be worth the wait for the right material, especially when looking at the long-range picture.

“If we’re going to have these buildings here for the next 100 years like our history is, six weeks doesn’t mean much. I hate to make a decision we otherwise wouldn’t have because of a six week delay. That’s kind of hard to go down that route.”

Uhlarik thought contractors could work on other items, like the mechanical room and the high school science lab addition, while waiting for the bricks for the gym to arrive. Even with a delay, he still felt the gym would be completed by the start of the 2020-21 school year.

The high school addition will be more traditional construction instead of using precast concrete panels.

After discussion, the board unanimously accepted the bid – with the insulation change – which Superintendent Vic Zimmerman said would only reduce the energy efficiency by an estimated 2 percent.

Board members did decide to take the brick out of the precast panels of the mechanical room, which is in a more remote location on the east side of campus. As the first necessary piece of work that needs to begin this August, the board did not want to hold up the start of the construction project.

That work will follow a busy summer that will include the demolition of the 1894-era Old Washington school building to make way for the new elementary school classroom addition and competition-sized gymnasium. Four mobile classrooms will also be installed on the high school lawn.

Washington Elementary Principal Nancy Rosenbery said work has already started to clear things out of the three-story structure.

“Old Washington teachers have been spending a lot of time purging and getting ready for the summer move,” said Rosenbery. “They have been spending their time during school improvement days getting them time to clean up their room and get organized. We have a lot to do between now and May 31.”