This summer is a sprint for area schools to complete millions in building upgrades and repairs during the next few weeks.
And those projects are also keeping Billings-area contractors busy, as School District 2 officials have made a point of having the work done by local firms.
Of the nearly 80 bids awarded this summer, all but one have gone to a local contractor, SD2 bond manager Lew Anderson told the school board recently.
“Our target, when we were out talking to people about this bond, we promised them we would try to get 80 percent local participation,” he said, referring to the $122 million measure approved by voters last year.
“We want to deliver on our promise. That’s really important to us,” Anderson said.
More than $36 million of the bond money is earmarked for deferred maintenance. Around $8 million should be spent this summer, in addition to the major renovations underway at Broadwater and McKinley schools.
Projects include basic but sometimes extensive upgrades to keep students and staff “safe, warm and dry,” from new gym flooring at Highland to window and roofing upgrades at Castle Rock Middle School.
The district budgeted roughly $1 million in upgrades this summer for each of Meadowlark, Miles and Central Heights schools. Will James Middle School is getting a $950,000 partial reroof (Empire Roofing) and $330,000 in new windows (Fisher Construction). The district is also finishing up the last batch of projects from a pair of federal bonds approved by voters in 2012, which target primarily energy efficiency upgrades.
By law, the contracts are awarded to the company that offers the lowest responsible bid. But with more projects that the district can do at once, Anderson said he’s been able to shuffle around the timing of some bids so local companies are able to participate.
For example, when local window installers told Anderson that their summer schedules were getting full, he held off on additional projects until the next bid cycle.
“We want to make sure that as we monitor that, we’re able to afford our local contractors an opportunity to have equal access to these jobs, which in essence is an advantage to them and us,” said SD2 Superintendent Terry Bouck, noting that overhead costs are typically lower for in-town contractors.
“That’s a fair advantage,” he said. “We just want to make sure we take care of our community, but we do it in a legal and forthright way.”
The result: More than 30 contractors from Billings, Laurel and Joliet are assigned to 78 summer projects across 28 buildings.
Their work will make a difference in classrooms, Anderson said, by keeping temperatures stable, improving lighting and air quality and reducing outside noise. Energy efficiency projects will pay for themselves many times over in future savings, he said.
The repairs made using money from the 2013 bond, as well as those approved in 2012 and 2010, are putting a major dent in SD2’s backlog of deferred maintenance, which peaked at $120 million in 2010.
“We’re going to have a pretty good hit on this in K-8,” Anderson said. “I think we’re making really great strides here.”
Additionally, the major renovations to Broadwater and McKinley schools are on track so far, and the public will soon have a chance to tour the projects.
The district will offer a walk-through of each school on Aug. 12, Bouck said. The tour of Broadwater begins at 4:30 p.m., with McKinley following at 6 p.m.
Students at Broadwater will have “business as usual” when school starts on Aug. 27, Anderson said. Crews with Hardy Construction will work through the winter to erect the three-story addition.
At McKinley, half of the students will return to class at their school, while about 170 will be relocated to the nearby Lincoln Center for the year. That will allow Dick Anderson Construction to continue renovations to the school’s basement and three-story addition during the year.
Both contractors are using all local subcontractors, with the exception of the brick restorers at McKinley, Anderson said.
August 2015 remains the target date for completion, he said.
And it’s not just SD2 whose buildings are getting makeovers. Independent elementary districts Elysian School and Elder Grove are in the midst of major expansion projects stemming from recent bonds.
The $5 million work at Elder Grove is adding classrooms, a new library and breezeways to connect the growing school’s handful of buildings.
At Elysian, contractors are installing cabinets and drop ceilings in the remodeled classrooms in the old portion of the school, Superintendent Bob Whalen said.
“That is really looking cool. That’s going to be a 21st century setting,” he said. “It was a renovation well overdue.”
The remainder of the work, which will expand the school by some 15 classrooms, will be finished next summer and will help accommodate an influx of students that Whalen said he doesn’t expect to slow down any time soon.
"For years it was a little county school. With all the growth in Billings, it’s not a little county school anymore,” he said.
The improvements Whalen has seen so far are looking “pretty darn good,” he said.