After a loss at the ballot box, Maricopa Unified School District is planning its next steps to build a second high school.
At a special meeting of the governing board Wednesday, Mark Rafferty, a partner at Facility Management Group, showed a draft timeline that would have a school ready to open for the 2022 school year. Superintendent Tracey Lopeman also explained the budget limitations.
MUSD has only partial funding for a second high school. About 56 percent of voters who participated in the Nov. 5 election voted against a $65 million bond.
Recapping a meeting with the School Facilities Board, Lopeman said the SFB funding of $22.46 million for 125,000 square feet is firm. It is for new site construction only and not to expand the Maricopa High School campus.
“The amount of money that has been allocated, while we are very grateful for it, is not intended to build a comprehensive high school like we envisioned, like our students deserve,” Lopeman said.
The package from SFB also includes $3.7 million for a school site, if needed.
The square footage of 125,000 would allow for about 1,300 students. Lopeman described a two-story building that might look like the 100 building on the MHS campus, a structure that is 68,000 square feet. The school would be “basic,” with no playing fields, no carpet, but probably polished concrete.
The funds would pay for some furniture, equipment and wiring for technology but not the tech itself, Business Director Jacob Harmon said.
“On the bright side, $3.7 million is generous enough to buy a site that can be a comprehensive high school someday,” Rafferty said.
Lopeman said the architecture and engineering must reflect the budget limitations. “We have phases we will be looking at over the years.”
Most similar schools MUSD officials looked to for guidance actually had much more square footage to work with.
“There is no other high school that has been built with just SFB money,” Lopeman said.
“That’s the first thing they told us. ‘What’s your plan, because we know you cannot build a school with the monies we’ve given you,” Harmon said.
The district may bring back to voters a revised bond request in the near future. Meanwhile, officials are looking at creative funding alternatives for the short-term and long-term.
Board President AnnaMarie Knorr, a legislative agricultural lobbyist as a government affairs manager for the Western Growers Association, said a state lawmaker approached her after the election results showed MUSD would not get a bond. The legislator pointed out some schools in similar circumstances have received legislative appropriations of a few million dollars to complete construction projects.
Board member Torri Anderson also suggested looking into the possibility of creating a “specialty” high school. Board member Joshua Judd asked about expanding the current high school campus as a short-term solution.
The governing board will need to decide method of procurement and a selection committee. As early as its Dec. 11 meeting, it may start the process of finding an architect.
The construction environment in Arizona has changed since the last time MUSD built a school, when project delivery was through the so-called “hard bid” process. Rafferty said for much of the past decade, school-construction projects “largely, predominantly, in 99% of cases have been delivered through the construction-manager-at-risk delivery system.”
Though there is a push to rediscover the hard-bid delivery method, in which the school would select a general contractor with the lowest bid, Rafferty said it was his opinion the relationship between the schools and the contractors would be “somewhat adversarial” and the system was not in the best interest of the school districts.
Quality-control and cost-control issues, such as a high number of change-orders that created a final cost that overshot the low bid, had government entities looking for alternative processes. Rafferty said the construction-manager-at-risk method was already popular in other states before coming to Arizona.
“The reason we have alternative delivery methods is because of what happened in the ‘90s with hard bid,” he said.
His company, FMG, recommends MUSD use the CM@R procurement method because of the collaboration among the school district, construction manager and architect. Rafferty said though hard-bid is simple, it could take 30%-40% more time.
CM@R is based on qualifications.
During the CM@R process in hiring subcontractors, a representative of the school district will be at the table when bids are tallied, he said.
Rafferty also recommended hiring the architect and the construction manager concurrently. Negotiations on fees would happen separately and would be based on the budget of the project.
MUSD Governing Board must approve the selection of the construction manager and architect, the fee basis and the guaranteed maximum price.
The evaluation criteria are established in the request for qualifications. “References are very important because K-12 is a pretty small world and the whole construction industry in Arizona is a little bigger,” Rafferty said.
State statute requires a selection committee of five to seven members, who will grade submittals and make a recommendation. The committee membership is required to include a registered architect and a licensed general contractor. The committee is also required to have an SFB representative.
Lopeman said ideally the committee members will be local. She said she reached out to City Manager Rick Horst to seek possible candidates.
Jan. 15, MUSD will host a strategy meeting to include parents, businesses and other community members to discuss the design, look, feel and use of the new school.
“We have to have an amazing compelling vision,” Lopeman said, “but we also have to have a short-term understanding of what the limitations are.”
Rafferty said FMG would like to see MUSD buy and masterplan a site, with the school as the first component and other components phased in.
“We really have to be moving forward on two separate tracks, with and without the bond,” Judd said. “And we have to have a plan to be built with or without the bond on this date.”
Not discussed at Wednesday’s work session but included on the failed bond were maintenance and repair projects like new roofing and heating/air conditioning units.
During the 2017-18 fiscal year, SFB gave MUSD $203,640 for five projects. Three were at the high school for HVAC, one was for plumbing issue at Maricopa Elementary School, and one was for electrical at Desert Wind Middle School.
Board member Patti Coutré would not be surprised if repairs have even higher price tags in years to come. She said those kinds of maintenance issues will increase as the current buildings age. School districts are limited in the amount of contingency funds they are allowed to set aside to plan for inevitable failures. SFB funding is not guaranteed.