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Cost for security changes at Mequon schools increases

School Board using reserves to partially cover gap

April 23, 2013

Mequon - The Mequon-Thiensville School Board on Monday unanimously gave early approval to 13 construction projects on school properties over the summer that will cost more than $1.3 million.

The biggest project, which will overhaul entrances to all five of the district's elementary schools to make them more secure at a cost of $900,000, caused a stir because it could end up costing about $314,000 more than expected.

To account for this budget shortfall, Director of Buildings and Grounds Kyle Thompson asked the board to put in $200,000 extra from the Additional Fund Balance, while he put in an additional $113,500 from his own budget.

"I'm willing to take it off the list, but if we take it off the list, we won't be able to revisit this for another several months and it won't be until next summer, and we've had some incidents over the last month alone where we need to secure these buildings better than they are - we just do," Thompson said.

Initially, board members were hesitant to pull $200,000 from reserves, and board member Cheryl Rebholz flatly refused to support it.

Superintendent Demond Means said that this is probably the largest construction project in the district since 1993, and he echoed the concern that the board has had to be exceptionally careful about spending for years with declining enrollment in order to get the board to a position to even consider funding this project.

"The bottom line is we worked hard and we were fiscally conservative as an administrative team and as a board of education to even be in a position to have a conversation about utilizing fund balance," Means said. "This is the proper use of fund balance. It's a one-time cost."

"I would hope that we are not going to shy away from this project and the security of our children because of this issue."

Thompson was apologetic about the error that led him and his team to underestimate the cost of the project, and he said that the reason was because he and his team did not factor in some costs of demolition, the costs of running five construction sites at once and other unforeseen factors in some schools.

However, he held firm that there was no way to cut costs to the project without cutting some schools out of the program or undermining the security systems they were trying to put in place.

"If we start pulling stuff out to come down to (the original estimate), my suggestion is let's not spend the money at all, because it's a waste of money at that point," Thompson said. "It's like buying half of a boat; it's not going to float."

Although board members were uncomfortable with higher-than-expected cost of the project, they found the options of leaving some schools out or scraping the project altogether unpalatable. Mary Cryier said that not once has the board used additional fund balance during her time as a member so far, but one-time security expenditures are what the money is supposed to be used for.

"The reason that we made these decisions was the safety of our kids," Cryier said. "I would not want something to happen to one of our kids because we didn't choose to spend an extra $200,000."

The board commended Thompson's work on finding deals and organizing this project and others despite the miscalculation on the security project.

The other 12 projects, which collectively cost about $414,000, are primarily what Thompson called "protecting investments." Most of these include repainting doors and walls, replacing windows on doors to make them more secure, seal-coating asphalt, replacing locks and other upgrades.

In most cases, Thompson secured bids that were thousands of dollars under budget, including a bid from Poblocki Paving Corporation to seal-coat asphalt at all six schools for about $29,000, which is $18,000 cheaper than the next lowest bid.

Thompson said that these projects will begin in earnest the evening that classes end June 13 so as to complete all of them in the 54 working days of summer.

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