Education | National

Clara Caufield: New Northern Cheyenne school still needs work

The following story was written and reported by Clara Caufield, Northern Cheyenne Correspondent for the Native Sun News. All content © Native Sun News.

This photo from 2012 shows construction of the new Lame Deer Elementary School in Montana. Photo from Spectrum Group Architects / Facebook

Lame Deer School moving forward to resolve construction debacle
By Clara Caufield
Northern Cheyenne Correspondent

LAME DEER, Mont. — In the last six months the Lame Deer Public Schools Board of Trustees, Administration and staff has had their hands full – dealing with an unfinished multi-million federally funded construction project to expand and improve that district's elementary school.

“It has been a slow process, trying to get to the bottom of the problems,” reported Robert McLean, Board Chairman. “Yet, we are moving forward, hoping to finish such basics as the elementary cafeteria and kitchen by January, 2015. The final goal of completing the construction project is within sight, probably a year or two from now.”

McLean also noted that attorneys for the School and DPS-Small Construction are in discussion trying to resolve outstanding issues.

“The Board has not heard from DPS-Small Construction regarding code and construction deficiencies and the unfinished and over budget project,” he said. “So, we don’t know about the intentions of that contractor. That is why we are moving forward with other professionals, including a forensic auditor regarding the finances on the project. The School District requested that DPS/Small turn over financial records related to the project. Failing that, the Board determined to request a forensic on the construction project. The results of that audit will determine what funds were spent on Phase I; what, if any, money is left from Phase I and who is liable for over-expenditures on that phase. Now, we have to figure out how to complete Phase 1 and then Phase 11.”

The initial contact for Phase 1 was $4.9 million yet $5.6 million has been expended and the Phase I component is still uncompleted. The difference will be examined by the Forensic Construction Auditor, approved by the Board, but not yet retained. Superintendent, Bill Parker has been assigned that task.

The Lame Deer Schools Public Board of Trustees terminated the contracts with Spectrum Architects and DPS/Small Construction (initially awarded as an Indian Preference contact on the strength of Clayton Small, enrolled tribal member) in June, 2014. Since, several tasks have been accomplished.

First, the Board retained Major Robinson, architect and also enrolled tribal member as “Owner’s Representative” to advise the Board and Administration regarding the entire project. Then, after a public advertisement and bid process, the Board retained the architectural firm of L'heureux Page Werner, Great Falls, MT which has since conducted several Master Planning Meetings with the school administration, Board of Trustees, community and tribal cultural representatives.

The initial project was a 60,000 square-foot addition, which McLean called an “unrealistic-pie in the sky plan.” Under current planning, a more feasible plan is being developed. The school has also recently retained a Construction Manager at Risk (CMAR), Langlas & Associates, John Flanagan, Lead construction manager, who is working with the architects, Board of Trustees and staff to complete a critical, though yet unfinished component of Phase I - the elementary cafeteria and kitchen.

Because this essential part of Phase I was not completed, meals for the elementary students are currently prepared at the High School, some miles away, transported to the elementary school and served in the make-shift gym at the elementary school. Complaints regarding those meals are frequent among students. Under current plans, a bid for the elementary cafeteria will be let in the near future, one of seven yet-to-do construction components. The completion goal for the cafeteria/kitchen is March, 2015 though Board Chairman McLean hopes it might be completed by January, 2015.

As a result of the construction problems, the Lame Deer Board of Trustees now faces an additional dilemma: raising funds to complete the entire project.

“We are short on completing Phase I and certainly for Phase 11,” said Major Robinson, Owner’s Representative and principal, Redstone Consulting,

Fundraising work connected the Lame Deer Public Schools with the Missoula based Montana Community Development Corporation to access two million in New Market Tax Credits, an option advised by Jeff Seidel, Minnesota, a consultant to Lame Deer Schools. This revenue is similar to a grant, in that it will not cost the school any repayment obligation.

These funds, provided for rural economic and community development have been used by other public reservation schools, specifically Rocky Ford Elementary and Bates Indian School, both on the Pine Ridge Reservation, facing circumstances very similar to Northern Cheyenne. Robinson and Superintendent Parker recently traveled to those schools to investigate the tax credit method of funding and brought back a favorable report. On that basis, The Lame Deer Board of Trustees authorized the school administration to move forward to secure the New Market Tax Credits. That process could be completed in the next three months, Robinson said.

As another cost-savings measure, the local Northern Cheyenne Bureau of Indian Affairs under the guidance of Michael Addy, Superintendent, assisted with the Phase I project. The B.I.A. Roads crew donated time, equipment and man power to remove the construction debris, left by the previous contractor DPS-Small Construction. Addy commented that the debris posed a public safety hazard to the children and the public and “that is why we decided to participate.”

Robinson estimated that the B.I.A., involvement saved the school from $70,000 - $80,000. But McLean noted that the unfinished contract for that work awarded to DPS-Small Construction was for $321,000. “So the B.I.A. provided a much larger savings to the school," he said.

Addy said that in the future the B.I.A. may also assist with concrete removal on the old elementary site to assist the school. “This is our community too and we are concerned about the welfare of the Cheyenne youth and students,” he said.

(Clara Caufield can be reached at

Copyright permission Native Sun News

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