Northgate eyes capital projects

The Northgate School Board, in a narrow vote Monday night, put the brakes on a $2.1 million capital improvement project planned for 2019 despite questions and concerns about how the project would be funded.

While $600,000 of the estimated construction cost would have gone to creating more secure entries at each of the district’s three schools, the lion’s share -- $1.5 million – was estimated for rehabilitation of Alumni Field, including restoration of the lights that would allow the football team to return to Friday night games next year.

A motion to move ahead with designs and bidding for the work was buried in the agenda for Monday’s committee of the whole board meeting, which was not available on-line prior to the meeting as agendas usually are. In fact, the board was well into its agenda for the night before architectural engineer Greer Hayden was called on to present plans for the projects.

Hayden, of the architectural/engineering firm of HHSDR, first showed drawings of changes that would have to be made to better control entry into each of the district’s three schools. Each building currently has a system in which there is an intercom at the entrance, and office personnel can buzz to unlock the door. At that point, however, visitors have free access to the school buildings.

At the high school, plans call for the creation of a security office at the side of the lobby farthest from the gym entrance. All visitors would be buzzed into a vestibule and face an employee area that features a window with bullet-resistant glass. The panels on each side of the window would be lined with Kevlar, Hayden said. Visitors who are just dropping off a backpack or paperwork will go no further into the school, while others will have to be buzzed through another locked door.

Hayden said that, ultimately, the high school’s entire front façade, as well as the glass walls surrounding the cafeteria, would need to be replaced with safety glass. He explained that safety glass would not stop a bullet, but also would not shatter if a weapon was fired at the glass.

Similar plans were presented for Avalon and Bellevue elementary schools, where the creation of the entryways would necessitate moving and redesigning offices and classrooms in the front of the schools.

Superintendent Dr. Caroline Johns said that Northgate was “way behind” in the area of secure entryways, and said that she would “very strongly recommend” that the renovations be done. She said that while everyone was cognizant of the worst threat – an active shooter situation – in reality the threats that have occurred at Northgate schools involved angry parents who were able to access classrooms and confront teachers, and parents involved in child custody battles.

The stadium project, designated as Phase I, includes updated electrical systems, new lights and scoreboard, upgrades to the press box, new fencing around the field and stadium, and having the field itself regraded to address drainage issues and then resodded. Broken down, Hayden estimated that it would cost about $600,000 just to get the new lights in place, and $90,000 for the fencing.

Board member John Gratner said that the board needed to hear some justification for the project. “We have to be able to explain why we’re spending $90,000 on a fence,” when most homes in the area do not cost that much.

“I don’t think you can justify any of it” if looking only at the educational value of the work, said board member Michael Rajakovic, who added that “I’m all for this” because of the sense of community that comes from having Friday night football games.

Rajakovic said that he had hoped the board would have more information on how the funding would be structured before having to make a decision, but Hayden said that if the board wanted any of the projects finished by next summer, a vote was needed Monday night. The district is currently applying for grants that might help fund both the security and field projects.

Another point of hesitation for board members was the fact that even if the district decides not to accept bids and go through with the projects, it will still cost the district a hefty sum in architectural and engineering fees. HHSDR will receive 6 percent of the total construction cost – a number board member Dan O’Keefe pointed out was far from certain, especially given what Hayden called a labor shortage in the trades that was making it difficult for companies to bid on large projects. Hayden also explained that the architect/engineer earns some 80 percent of its fees through the design and bidding portions of the project.

Rajakovic maintained that the security project would involve most of the architectural fees for the entire project, but was corrected by O’Keefe, who noted that the higher price of the field project meant the firm would receive most of its fees from that part of the project.

The board had the option of amending the motion to vote individually on the security and field projects, but chose not to do so. A motion to approve design and bid solicitation was defeated in a 4-3 vote, with O’Keefe, Gratner, Shannon Smithey and Christine King opposed. Voting for the motion were Rajakovic, Jennifer McWilliams and Amy Joy Robinson. Gary Paladin and Tim Makatura were absent.

The motion may come back to life, however. Smithey said that procedural rules would allow the motion to be reintroduced by someone who voted against it the first time, and she would be willing to do that at next week’s regular meeting if board members received information that might change their votes.