Construction of an outdoor learning lab near Napoleon Elementary School is moving forward, although costs have been higher than expected.
The Napoleon Area Schools School Board approved a contract with Rupp Rosebrock, Inc. to provide design services and construct the outdoor lab at a cost of $447,389.30.
The initial estimate for the building in October was $180,000, excluding design costs, furniture and fixtures. Superintendent Dr. Erik Belcher noted that the design-build model is a different approach than the district.
“Usually when we do projects, we’d hire an architectural firm and they would help come up with the designs and put everything up for sale…and all the companies would send in their bid,” Belcher said. “On this project, we thought it would be a smaller project and went for a design build. We actually came up with drawings of what we wanted it to look like…and, instead of spending a contract with an architect and to pay these costs, we made the rough drawings which did not cost us anything, we sent them to auction.
Belcher said it became apparent during the process that the initial estimate was too low and noted the market swings that occurred.
“We weren’t sure if it was us or if it was just high offers, but when we start seeing everyone in the same stadium… it came back that we seriously underestimated what we thought it was going to be,” he said.
Belcher said changes were made to reduce the cost somewhat while still maintaining a design that would blend in with the campus and be useful in many ways, but it’s still higher than the original estimate.
“We want to make sure we have quality materials and quality facilities that are going to add to our education and be here for the next 30 to 40 years,” Belcher said. “We felt that was very important.”
Cory Niekamp, district business manager, noted that the idea grew out of the idea that classes could move outdoors due to COVID-19 and that this facility would provide that opportunity. One of the changes they considered was to remove the toilets from the plans, but they decided that with the ability for other organizations to use them as well, that should stay.
“We knew it was the wrong thing,” he said. “We have toilets there, and there is a substantial cost to do so. Just talking to everyone, with all the different opportunities to use this facility, we kind of felt like we had to spend that money.
“We wanted to make sure it was kind of an extension of the existing building,” he continued, adding that one or two classrooms may be in the outdoor lab, which includes also the possibility of using technologies such as the smartboard. “We are trying to build that area there. You have sports fields, football fields, cross-country competitions, there is a lot going on there, people want to walk around. This is an opportunity to have a shaded area.
He added that portable toilets and portable generators are currently installed during these sports activities, but this should eliminate this need.
“With the storage, we could sell concessions … when they have kickball or softball,” Niekamp said, adding that they are currently in discussions with Napoleon City about possible field improvements for recreational programs. ‘summer. “What else can we do to use this area a little more?”
Grades 3-6 elementary principal Adam Niese has worked with teachers on potential uses for the space and said there are a variety of ways to use it for educational purposes, including samples of soil, erosion projects and improved uses of the pond which are already underway.
“We’ve had all kinds of great ideas involving soil and water, Henry County 4-H here,” he said. “The teachers participated and are delighted.
“Toilets are a key, water is definitely a key with our science teachers,” he continued. “We’ve talked about bringing in people like Nature’s Nursery and … there’s all kinds of things we can bring out. These are fun and very enjoyable activities.
Niekamp said the facility will be located between the cross-country course and the kickball field.
Andrew Toadvine, project manager at Rupp Rosebrock, previewed the facility, which will match the glazed brick look of the elementary school, and tables will be set up under the covered pavilion. There will also be two single-use toilets and a storage area. Toadvine added that a sanitary lift station will be installed to bring the sewage pump to the connection point. Utilities will be run from the current primary school to the lab, including water, electricity, and fiber ductwork. A current sidewalk will also be extended to reach the shelter.
Toadvine added that the contract is for a guaranteed maximum price, so the cost will not exceed that.
“It allows a lot of flexibility in that budget,” he added. “If the numbers are a little lower, you have the option of doing something a little better for the installation.”
The cost of the contract includes the final facility design and construction, but does not include furniture.
Board member Michael Wesche expressed concern about potential vandalism if the facility and restrooms are unlocked, and Niekamp said there will be lights on the building and it is possible to have security cameras in the area.
The original intent is that the shelter would be paid for through the Elementary and Secondary School Relief Fund (ESSER), which is federal funds related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Treasurer Michael Bostelman said the district has set aside $235,000 in ESSER funds for this project and the remaining amount will come either from the remaining Ohio Facilities Construction Commission funds or from the permanent improvement, which includes money recently transferred from the bond retirement fund after the bonds were refinanced.
“We have the funds to do it anyway,” Bostelman said. “Erik and I spoke and to get a facility of this quality that is going to serve our students for 20-30 years, and probably more than that in the future, we thought was a pretty wise investment that will pay dividends on the education side.
“…Construction for us will probably slow down after these ESSER funds, because until the market calms down, it’s not worth doing now,” he continued. “We had these federal funds budgeted, so it seems logical to go ahead and get the facility in place.”
As for the timeline, Niekamp said the project would start in May or June and end in August.