School construction boom: Firms from across the country bid on Casper projects

2010-09-29T00:00:00Z 2010-09-29T06:58:16Z School construction boom: Firms from across the country bid on Casper projectsJACKIE BORCHARDT Casper Star-Tribune The Billings Gazette
September 29, 2010 12:00 am  • 

CASPER — National eyes are on small-town Casper.

More than $100 million is expected to flow from the state for high school construction projects in the next five years. Architects from around the country want a piece of the pie.

More than 40 representatives of architecture and contracting firms visited Casper on Tuesday to learn more about upcoming school construction projects. They traveled not only from Wyoming, Colorado and Montana, but also from New York, Washington state and Texas.

Natrona County’s high school population will hover around 3,600 students for the next five years and possibly grow to 4,000 students by 2020, according to projections from the state School Facilities Commission. Kelly Walsh and Natrona County high schools will be renovated to house 1,300 students each — about 300 fewer than now.

A new high school campus will be designed to house 1,000 students — 400 from Roosevelt High School and the Transitions credit recovery program and 600 from existing high schools in half-day “advanced professional” programs. A “construction manager at risk” will be hired for Kelly Walsh and Natrona County, and a design-bid-build process will be followed for the new high school campus.

Preliminary timelines call for construction starting in fall 2012 and all projects finished by fall 2016. A new high school has been talked about for years in the district, and now the work is real, said Mark Antrim, associate superintendent of facilities and technology.

“There’s definitely a hungry group of designers out there,” Antrim said.

Designers heard about the projects from newspapers and the School Facilities Commission website. They know Wyoming is building, and that the state spent more than $1.4 billion on school capital construction projects in the past 10 years.

The School Facilities Commission held information sessions for firms this week in Casper. During each, representatives learned about the district’s rough ideas for the projects and had the opportunity to tour the existing buildings and the site for the new high school campus. They’ll report back to their firms, which will then decide whether to pursue one, all or none of the projects.

The informational tours are the first step in a process polished by the School Facilities Commission in the past year. Each project is steered by a five-person committee — the school’s principal, one school board member, one district staff member, one representative of the School Facilities Commission and one community member chosen by the rest of the group.

Letters of interest — a list of qualifications and examples of past work — are due Oct. 21. Committees will review the applicants and select three finalists for each project. The finalists will pitch their plans for the projects, and committees will rank the finalists by the end of the year.

Firms spend tens of thousands of dollars on this preliminary work, just for the opportunity to be considered, said Brandon Finney, contract manager for the state School Facilities Commission. School and site tours allow design and contract firms to note where they might place construction equipment or how they might work on a building around regular school operations.

Finney said the smallest errors could knock a few points off their final scores.

Contact Jackie Borchardt at jackie.borchardt@trib.com or 307-266-0593.

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