|The following story was written and reported by Clara Caufield. All content © Native Sun News.
Robert McLean (green vest) Chairman of Lame Deer School Board and Bill Parker, Lame Deer Schools Superintendent stand in front of construction rubble left by DPS. LLC on the school campus. Removal was to have been completed in the fall of 2013. Photo by Clara Caufield
Construction at Northern Cheyenne
School incomplete and over budget
By Clara Caufield
LAME DEER, Mont. — It cost the Lame Deer Public Schools $20,480 to get a third party evaluation of its Elementary Construction project funded by Impact Aid Dollars, State Coal Board grants and District Funds.
This construction project has been under evaluation since December 2013 following the termination of contracts for Phase 2 with Spectrum Group Architects, Billings, Mont. and DPS Company LLC, Boyd, Mont. Those firms had contracts for the Phase 1 design and construction.
High Plains Architects provided the School Board with an evaluation of Phase 1 & 2, with Phase 1 originally budgeted at $4.2 million, uncompleted but over budget. Additional funds from the Department of Education have been approved for Phase 2. Overall, the entire project including both Phases will cost roughly $11 million.
On May 14, the Lame Deer Board of Trustees voted unanimously to appoint its Facilities Committee to negotiate a contract with the architectural firm, L ‘Heureux Page Werner, Great Falls, one of four candidates to respond to school advertisements. Members of the Facilities Committee, Major Robinson, Owner’s Representative and Superintendent Bill Parker who interviewed the top two firms, including CTA of Billings gave the Great Falls firm high marks.
“They have experience with Tribes, including the Blackfeet where they incorporated tribal culture into the design. I was impressed with their approach and by references from Browning. They want active participation from the community,” said Board Member Mary Lou Spang.
According to Major Robinson, Owner’s Representative (tribal member and owner of Redstone Project Development) a next step will be to advertise for and select a Construction Manager at Risk (CMAR) to focus on the new construction. Then, it will be necessary to seek additional funding to supplement the completion of the project. Finally, the School will mostly likely enter into mediation to resolve outstanding issues with Spectrum Group Architects and DPS Company LLC.
The School Board is hopeful that construction can be resumed this summer with a key goal of finishing the cafeteria by the beginning of school next year. Phase 1, originally slated for completion in the spring of 2013, is still unfinished.
A number of issues must still be settled for the Phase 1 project as identified in the Third Party Evaluation. The report included two primary conclusions:
1). Spectrum Group Architects was the architect for Phase 1. Its design was unremarkable and does not evidence sustainable design strategies that would benefit both the district and the students and teachers. This design was presented in a set of contract documents that is not clear, correct, or well-coordinated. In addition, Spectrum charged the school district considerably higher fees for the Space Planning Phase and Basic Services than industry standard. It then charged for a number of Additional Services, many of which were unwarranted.
2). DPS Company LLC (DPS) was the construction manager. DPS had a pattern of not following the contract documents and poor quality control. The completed work consistently is of lower quality than the industry standard for schools even as the construction costs were higher than average school costs in Montana.
Superintendent Bill Parker, a tribal member is particularly upset about construction deficiencies and cost overruns. “Our kids deserve the same learning environment as any other kids in this country. The reality is that the government is responsible for Indian education by treaty,” he said.
The comprehensive evaluation contains a number of specific items that will be addressed through mediation as stipulated in construction contracts. Some of the final figures in the Third Party Evaluation still need to be fine-tuned, Parker cautioned. The initial report on Phase 1 reflects cost overruns of some $750,000; figures Parker feels are too “low.” The Evaluation addressed other key points such as:
• Spectrum may not be entitled to payment of outstanding architectural fees totaling several hundred thousand dollars.
• The Phase 1 Building that Spectrum designed does not have an energy efficient building envelope and the School will likely pay thousands of extra dollars per year in utility costs as a result.
• The entire project suffered from poor process and all parties (Owner, Architect and Construction Manager) appear to have played some role in communication challenges and not following the process laid out in the contracts.
• There were a number of significant structural issues on the project due to DPS’ failure to follow the contract documents. These were in violation of state building codes and Article 2.1.9 of its Agreement with the Owner.
• DPS had very poor quality control practices, resulting in work that was consistently improperly installed or finished. A total of 17 major construction deficiencies are listed in the Evaluation. However, the report clearly states: regardless of the reason, the Construction Manager is ultimately responsible for the quality of the work completed.
Robinson, Owner’s Representative informed the Board that he has met with the BIA, Northern Cheyenne Agency to discuss project collaboration including future construction of a parking lot and assistance with the site demolition cleanup. He is assisting the School District to actively evaluate other funding sources, a task that will also be shared by the new Architectural Firm.
Finally, he is making a concerted effort to keep tribal officials and the community informed about the project.
Board Chairman Robert McLean expressed the hope that the much delayed project can be “speeded up” to address the deficiencies in Phase 1, especially the school cafeteria and move expediently to begin Phase 11.
“We need to kick-start the process. No more lolly-gagging around,” he emphasized. “Our students need and deserve the facility.”
(Clara Caufield can be reached @ acheyennevoice.com)
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