ELKO — Construction of a proposed meat processing lab at Spring Creek High School is threatened by soaring costs, but school officials are already looking at alternatives to a new facility that would still create the lab for technical training.
Elko County school trustees agreed informally on June 28 to ask staff to come back with proposals after Steven Smith, construction and operations manager for the district, reported the estimated cost for building the meat lab has gone from $4 million to around $8 million and initial design fees would be $400,000.
Trustee Matt McCarty said he appreciated what career and technical education was planning, but he said that “I don’t think it’s responsible of us to spend half of what we have left on one project regardless of what the outcome on that would be.”
He said the district needs to look at “what we can get for the biggest bang for a buck,” later adding that he didn’t want to completely shelf the project, but he said voters “don’t want us to spend money.”
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The budget for the upcoming fiscal year beginning July 1 shows a balance of $14.7 million in the pay-as-you-go fund that is no longer bringing in tax dollars after voters defeated the 75-cent tax in 2020 and then nixed a 50-cent bond proposal in 2021 for school construction projects.
Pay-as-you-go officially ends on June 30.
Chief Financial Officer Julie Davis said on June 29 that roughly $2.4 million of pay-as-you-go funds have been spent since January on the Elko junior-senior high building remodeling project, mechanical upgrades in Wells and emergency piping at Jackpot.
Equipment for the meat lab acquired through grant dollars is already in storage, said Cassandra Stahlke, the district’s grant manager.
Paul Allen, the district’s new director of secondary education, said there may be rooms available at Spring Creek High School for the meat lab, so the Career and Technical Education program won’t lose the equipment. He said there are a couple of classrooms that had been set aside for computer-aided drafting classes that are no longer planned.
“I think we are starting to see the writing on the wall. If we can use existing space that would be good,” said district Superintendent Clayton Anderson, who also suggested that other schools in the district could find the space to use the equipment as another alternative.
Stahlke said, however, that the grant was specific to Spring Creek High School, but the state might redistribute the equipment to another CTE program in the district.
The school board president, Teresa Dastrup, recommended staff continue pursuing ideas and bring proposals back to the board, but “we certainly don’t want to put it on a shelf.”
Along with concerns about spending the remaining pay-as-you-go funds for school construction projects, the trustees are worried about spending for other projects that don’t use pay-as-you-go funds because of the $4.1 million hit the district took when the state grabbed net proceeds of mine taxes earlier than expected.
Under a new state law, the net proceeds of mine tax revenues go to the state for equal disbursement back to school districts, rather than individual districts receiving their shares of the revenue from mining operations in their counties. However, districts expected the change to kick in later than it did.
The board approved accepting the low bid of Charles H. Chester Plumbing and Heating Inc. for converting all existing gas-fired equipment for natural gas at two schools, but trustees talked more about trimming costs for asphalt projects for parking lots before awarding a contract.
The low bid for Liberty Peak Elementary School’s conversion to natural gas was $97,829, while Snyder Mechanical bid $99,665. The bid for Spring Creek Elementary School from Charles Chester Plumbing was $71,990, compared with $87,275 from Snyder Mechanical.
Smith said the budgeted amount for both schools combined was $300,000, so the low bids came in under budget at $169,819.
Talking about the asphalt projects, Trustee Jeff Durham told Smith the board asked for A, B and C options at an earlier meeting “but all we got was option A,” and he felt the district should spend less on the asphalt project than the roughly $270,000 bid presented.
He said the district needs to maintain property but “it doesn’t have to be pretty.”
Smith said the work is to last until the next rotation, and rotations will now be on a four-year basis rather than three years to save money.
Trustee Ira Wines asked whether there will be an impact from changing to four years, but Smith said there wouldn’t be an impact because contractors are using better compounds that last longer.
Smith said other ideas could be looked at in the future, but there is a small window for this construction season and contractors are busy.
Dastrup said school parking lots are “constantly being used,” and she opposed “letting our parking lots fall apart. My feeling is we budgeted this. I think we should take care of things as best we can and don’t cut corners so that we regret it down the road.”
The board accepted the low bid of Superior Services Inc. for $271,118 for asphalt maintenance, crack seal, seal coating, and striping of parking lots, roadways and playgrounds at Spring Creek High School, Spring Creek Middle School and the annex at Sage Elementary School, also in Spring Creek. Durham voted no, however.
Smith also reported that the playground work at Spring Creek Elementary School could begin within a few weeks. He said he has contacted local contractors for the project that will include excavation, playground borders, engineered wood fiber chip covering and sidewalk.
The PTA earlier offered to contribute to the playground improvements, and Smith said the district will cover initial work but ask the PTA for financial assistance.