Wauzeka school approves bid for roof, cladding

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By Steve Van Kooten


In the recesses of the Wauzeka-Steuben School, tucked beyond the offices, classrooms and the cafeteria, the school board sat at a table in the library. Each of them had a pile of papers in front of them, pictures of the school exterior and, more importantly, numbers. The numbers were the main attraction to the special meeting held on Nov. 6.

The board had a battery of meetings in October with a preliminary budget hearing, an annual meeting, a budget approval meeting as well as the regular meeting, so November’s lighter schedule looked like a relief. However, a delicate decision remained on their plate: the construction project for the school’s roofs and wall cladding.

The board were provided with three bids for the project from Modern Builders, Riddiford Metal and Pioneer Roofing. The board were receptive to Modern Builders’ base bid of $1,555,669 despite a 180 construction day timeline. Modern Builders’ price was approximately $300,000 and $435,000 less than Riddiford and Pioneer’s respective bids.

After 45 minutes, the board unanimously approved a bid from Modern Builders, a construction company based in Janesville, IA, to complete the application of a vapor barrier, wall cladding and metal roofing at a cost of $1,580,269. Although the decision was unanimous among the five board members, the decision hadn’t come easily.

Present at the meeting were Nikki Asleson, Board President; Ken Buck, Vice President; Thomas Martin, Clerk; Mara Hird, Treasurer; and Jessie Bird, Board Member. Dr. Gary Albrecht, Interim District Administrator, and Jeff Mara, Business Official, were also present.

While all of the members acknowledged the school buildings needed work, the price tag attached was a sticking point. Specifically, Modern Builders’ $215,000 bid to add a 2-inch Rockwool insulation to the cladding system. The process increased the $1.58 million project to $1.795 million.

Mara said the school’s Fund 46, a special state fund account that the school can use for capital projects, would have $1,335,000 available by the end of June, which would leave a $460,000 tab. 

Additionally, Mara said the school’s fund balance could help chip away at that number, “Right now, I have projected that, during 2024-25, we can probably get $200,000 of that balance.” That left $260,000 subject to borrowing.

If the school were to borrow the remaining amount, Mara stated it would add $20,000 per year to school’s debt payments, which were estimated to be $50,000 from $600,000 borrowed for roofing repairs. That would leave the district with $140,000 in borrowing available before they reached the $1 million threshold approved in October.

Albrecht provided his input during the meeting: “I still go back and forth on the insulation. We have to realize that, financially, we’re going to be pretty tight over the next few years. Our concern with that is if there are any other projects, like if we have a boiler issue or something like that.”

“I don’t like the $140,000 is all we’re going to have left if something goes wrong,” Hird said. “There’s a lot of things that can happen with this building that $140,000 isn’t going to cover an emergency.” Bird agreed and cited the cost of the insulation bid as prohibitive.

“Then you’d be approaching another referendum,” Albrecht added. The Wauzeka-Steuben School District is in its first year of three-year operating referendum that passed in November 2022.

“That’s just it: we don’t want to have to go back for more capital on top of operating [referendum],” Hird said. “The [roofing] project is already costing us money, so what’s a little more? Except that it’s a not ‘a little more;’ it’s a lot more.”

Martin stated he was in favor of adding the insulation, “We may always regret we never put it on. If we ever want to air condition this place someday, you’d be glad we put in on.” Martin added that he realized the choice was difficult and there wasn’t an easy answer.

At the annual meeting, the insulation was estimated to create a 15-30 percent energy savings for the district; however, Buck stated the 30 percent could be an optimistic figure and, even if it were accurate, he and Martin estimated it would only account for $7,000-$10,000. Bill Snow, the consultant from The Garland Company, reiterated initial estimations that the return on investment (ROI) would be 20-30 years.

“We don’t know what the ROI is going to be on that,” Buck said. “The price of gas would have to triple to cover that payment. It’s the right thing to do, but I don’t know how to make the numbers work.”

A motion to approve the Modern Builders’ bid with wall cladding, vapor barrier, metal roofing and insulation at a estimated cost of $1.795 million failed due to a lack of second before the motion without the insulation was approved.

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