by NATHANIEL NELSON
At its meeting last Thursday, Winona Area Public Schools (WAPS) Board voted to hire Wold Architects and Engineers to provide architectural and engineering services for the projects contained in its recently passed $9.4-million referendum. After board member voiced their concern about the firm’s higher cost over other offers, Wold cut its cost by $53,300, bringing it closer to other bids, but still nearly $20,000 higher than the district’s second choice. This is the second time the board has voted to hire Wold for referendum projects at a higher cost than other firms, having voted to prematurely hire the group for the failed 2017 $145-million referendum.
At the previous meeting, board members expressed disappointment at Wold’s cost –– which was more than $70,000 higher than the other two options, ISG and DLR. ISG, which administrators rated as the third best pick, estimated its costs at $498,250 with no reimbursable costs and change-order fees only if the scope of a project were to change. DLR, which was estimated at $533,386 plus reimbursable and change-order costs, was placed in second by district administrators. Wold’s estimated cost was $571,485, the highest of the three, but would charge no reimbursable or change-order costs. Each of the estimates was based on a percentage of estimated constructions costs of $7,619,806, which include the project costs and 50 percent of contingencies. The percent of the total project cost for Wold, DLR, and ISG were 7.5, 7, and 6.5 percent, respectively.
Last Thursday, superintendent Rich Dahman announced that Wold had offered to cut $53,300 from its cost, placing it within $20,000 of the lowest offer from ISG.
According to Dahman, the $53,300 comes from the portion of the cost that would have covered reimbursables, though the firm had already stated that the district would not be paying for reimbursables, and the $20,000 contract that Wold had been hired under for preparation of the the 2017 referendum. Dahman also said the district communicated with the other firms as well.
After the 2017 referendum failed, Wold continued to work with the district on a new facilities plan under the previous contract, which led to the $9.4-million building referendum that was approved by voters in November.
Board chair Ben Baratto explained that he had initially intended to vote no on the motion, but because of the new price, he believed that Wold was the best choice for the district. “Given the dire straits of the district, I figured voting for a $73,000 difference would be a difficult vote. I’m not sure if $20,000 is in that same category,” he explained. He added that his vote against Wold would not have been a slight against the firm’s qualifications, but merely an objection to the higher cost.
Other board members echoed his statement, with members Jay Kohner, Steve Schild and Tina Lehnertz all adding that their minds had been changed with the extra discount.
“I was pleased to see the cost was reduced,” Kohner said. “The $73,000 [cost] would have been tough under the circumstances.”
Lehnertz spoke highly of Wold, citing the history of the firm with the district and its capability at handling issues that may arise during the building-improvement projects.
“We’ve done many projects [with Wold] … and when you pay for the people to do those projects, they help things to not go wrong, and if they do go wrong, they’ll be able to handle it,” Lehnertz said. “They’re the best candidate for the job.”
Quam was the sole dissenting voice on the board, and aired several questions about how the district was soliciting proposals for the engineering work. She pressed administrators to explain why the district was hiring a firm to perform architectural work on smaller projects like a roof replacement or blacktop paving, especially when the district is about to hire a new director of buildings and grounds.
“I understand addressing accessibility, parking areas and vestibules but some of these other projects I just don’t understand why we would hire out when we have an [employee],” Quam said.
She also added that $20,000 was still enough to complete other necessary projects in the district, which would allow WAPS to cut its bottom line.
“I would prefer that [instead of spending] $20,000 on a firm, we spend it on other projects that are needed. This is how we can use that funding on referendum projects, and not cut programming,” Quam said.
Quam also asked for Dahman to provide the request for proposal (RFP) given out to firms, but Dahman said he did not have it available. Dahman did not respond to the Post’s requests for the RFP on Tuesday.
The board voted 5-1 to hire Wold, with Quam voting against the motion.
Wold has worked with the district in recent years on its push to overhaul facilities. In 2016, the firm agreed to cut its engineering costs to just $20,000 to assist with facility referendum planning, hoping to woo the district into the much more valuable construction engineering contract for the $145-million facility overhaul. When that referendum failed, the firm continued to work with the district under the 2016 contract on the planning of the new referendum, which passed in November.
The referendum covers projects in three areas: accessibility for students with disabilities, safety and security and deferred maintenance. The projects, which will cost approximately $9.4 million, include the creation of secure vestibules, replacement of doors, adding exterior ramps, fire-alarm replacement, electrical service upgrades, and parking lot reconstruction.
Prior to the failed 2017 referendum, the WAPS Board faced a similar decision between Wold and ISG. At that time, Wold had already been hired for $20,000 in June 2016 to evaluate WAPS’ facilities and assist in the planning process for the $145-million referendum. “We’ve put a lot of time in this, and it would kill me to have someone come in and finish it,” Wold partner Paul Aplikowski said during the last round of firm interviews.
When the vote came before the board, members voted 5-1 for Wold, despite its $4,598,900 cost coming up $742,000 more than ISG. Quam the lone dissenting vote in that decision as well.