With three of the four bidders in attendance, there was an air of excited tension in the room as board members tore into the bid packets. Architect John Berryhill read out the criteria and bids as each packet was opened. Because the bids varied widely in some of the itemized services, however, he and clerk of the works Gordon Bristol said they would make a recommendation after withdrawing to evaluate the total cost of each bid. Services or costs that bidders were asked to include were construction management, preconstruction services, “general conditions” (other site services), wage rates, and a total cost.
Later in the evening, Bristol returned with the results. DEW Construction Corp., of Williston, had the lowest total bid at $672,763, almost $100,000 lower than the next lowest bidder, and more than $200,000 lower than the highest bidder. DEW was the lowest bidder on all of the services in the proposal, but Bristol told board members that, at this point in the process, they only needed to approve the construction management. DEW bid a management fee of 1.25% of the $11,212,730 construction project, or $140,159.
Bristol noted that DEW’s bid on “preconstruction services” was $8,500, about half the amount other firms bid. “When we opened the bid, we asked why they were so low,” he said. “Were they lowballing us and making it up somewhere else? The answer is no, it’s spelled out in their itemization of preconstruction services. They estimate the preconstruction services at $18, 560, but are giving $10,060 for the good of the project.”
Board member Doug Swanson made a motion to approve DEW and, after it was seconded, asked if DEW has done any other projects in southern Vermont. “They’ve done more schools than any other firm around,” said board member Phil Taylor. “And that’s probably why they were the lowest bidder.”
Bristol said that DEW predicted the DVES portion of the project would be completed in nine months and the Twin Valley Middle/High School portion would be completed in 16 months.
Board members approved a contract, pending a legal review.
In related matters, board members agreed to create a committee to manage and oversee the academic program for the consolidated pre-K-12 program. One of the committee’s first tasks is to help develop a vision and mission statement for the consolidated schools. The group will also oversee the transition to a consolidated academic program. Board members said the committee, working with administrators, would develop a strategic plan to transform the education program into a “world-class 21st century academic program.”
“This is a way of blending the two curriculums,” said board member John Doty.
“I think Nancy (Talbot, assistant superintendent) would say the two curriculums are aligned, but things like teaching methods and classroom materials may be different,” said Twin Valley School Board Chair Seth Boyd.
Once the teaching staff is in place, Taylor said, the committee would task the teaching teams with developing the curriculum in their respective departments.
Board members appointed Doty and Taylor to the committee, along with the three principals and a supervisory union representative.
Wilmington board members discussed the future of the pre-K program, in light of the demand for this year’s program at DVES, which exceeded the amount of space available for a full-day pre-K program. “This year there were 25 kids identified that could have been in the program,” said board member Adam Grinold. “If we had that kind of number this year, it could happen again.”
Taylor said there have always been more eligible students than applications. “What’s changed is that parents want to apply for the program,” he said. “Before, when it was a half day, it wasn’t as convenient and we would only get 55% to 75%. Now we’re in our third year of the expanded program and the numbers have crept up.”
School officials have said the problem will be eliminated under the consolidation, and Taylor said he’d take steps to ensure there’s enough room for a robust pre-K program. “I’m double checking with the department of health on room size and design,” he said. “I’ve talked to (DVES Principal Rebecca Fillion), and if we do have demand that exceeds capacity, we can go to a three-classroom scenario. There’s a room that will be flexible to use as a pre-K.”
“It’s a great problem to have,” commented Boyd.
The board also discussed whether they should hire a new legal firm. The current firm is located out of state and, according to board members, sometimes requires more time to research legal issues.
“Should this be done on a supervisory union level?” asked board member Doug Swanson. “Do we want to create more burden on the supervisory union with 10 different lawyers?”
“I hear your point,” said Taylor, “but I’m concerned, given the past legal record, that we are selecting the attorney we need, and not the attorney the SU needs. We’re going to be coming into some areas where we need it.” Taylor referred to the upcoming consolidation, that will likely require laying off Wilmington and Whitingham elementary school teachers through a “reduction in force” notice, and rehiring teachers under the Twin Valley district.
“I think Twin Valley has an interest in having a lawyer for our immediate future, and that’s our own personnel,” said Doty. “Focus on that, and not on past sins.” Doty referred to issues with the middle and high school consolidation several years ago.