School construction project on schedule but over budget |

School construction project on schedule but over budget

John Colson
Mark Fox/The Aspen Times

Aspen school construction projects are on schedule perhaps even a little ahead of schedule in some sections – but over budget, a school official said this week.But the reasons for exceeding the budgets of the elementary and middle school projects are not the district’s fault, Superintendent Diana Sirko said. And, she said, the final reckoning may not be a painful one, although some parts of the overall construction program may require elimination or downward adjustment in scope. It’s called “value engineering,” which one district staffer defined as “when you come in over budget and you have to cut back.”The district is still in the early stages of a $33 million building program to replace the aging middle school, and expand and upgrade the elementary school.

But almost as soon as construction began last summer, Sirko reported that both projects would cost more than anticipated.”Right now, we’re about, maybe, $900,000 over budget,” Sirko said.To begin, contractors learned that when the elementary school was built back in 1991, the contractor had skimped on the structural steel in a single-story “pod” of classrooms – the same pod where builders are adding a second story.For the existing story to support the second floor, Sirko said, the contractors are installing $650,000 worth of structural steel in the walls and ceiling that was not in the budget.

Another surprise arose during excavation of the foundation for the new, L-shaped middle school. Contractors discovered that the earth beneath the foundation site was not solid enough to support the building, and had to dig deeper than anticipated – to the tune of roughly $150,000 in unexpected costs.But despite the cost overruns, Sirko said, the district is not worried yet, because there is a contingency fund of $1.7 million, which could take care of the overruns. She said she expects to get a better handle on final costs in December.

“At that point, we’ll know … essentially, what our final costs will be,” she predicted.She said the school board has yet to give up hope on building a new public entrance and lobby for the District Theater, estimated to cost $1.5 million, although “right now that’s on hold.” She said that if the news is good in December, the board could call for design work on the entrance and lobby to begin in time for the construction season next summer.As things now stand, the district plans to go ahead with $600,000 in improvements to the theater’s backstage, dressing rooms, lighting, and sound technology and scene shop.

The district also still plans to seek Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification for the new construction. The LEED certification is a rating system the U.S. Green Building Council devised.Sirko said she is not sure about the budgetary impact of the LEED certification effort, but noted that the district received a $250,000 grant from the Community Office of Resource Efficiency that is “offsetting some of those costs.”John Colson’s e-mail address is

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