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Helmut Schmidt, Published February 10 2014

Costs creeping up for Moorhead school projects; turning gyms into tornado shelters being considered

MOORHEAD – The estimated costs for building additions at two Moorhead School District schools and replacing the high school track and football/soccer field are creeping up, the Moorhead School Board learned Monday.

Those costs could rise even more if the board decides to turn two planned gymnasiums into tornado shelters.

The cost to add a classroom, gymnasium, and athletic storage and office space to Robert Asp Elementary is now pegged at nearly $2.3 million, about $100,000 higher than estimated last fall, interim Assistant Superintendent Jeremy Larson said.

But that doesn’t include $280,000 to $330,000 to build the gym so it can double as a shelter that can withstand 200 mph winds, Larson said.

Time considerations are complicating the decision.

Larson said Tuesday that the Minnesota Department of Education has given preliminary approval to the Asp project, but would need to re-examine the project and the planned expansion of the Probstfield Center for Education if the School Board decides to turn new gyms at those sites into tornado shelters.

Larson said the agency took six weeks to give its preliminary approval to the work. Adding too much of a delay in getting the projects re-approved could jeopardize the timetable to get the work done in time for school this fall, he said.

A plan to add eight classrooms, a gymnasium, and athletic storage and office space to Probstfield Center for Education was estimated at $4.3 million, but will rise because another 1,000 square feet of space is needed, Larson said.

The cost to turn that gym into a tornado shelter mirrors the Asp project. An alternative – turning the eight classrooms into a tornado shelter – would cost $150,000, Larson said.

Replacing the Moorhead High School track and installing an artificial turf football/soccer field was originally estimated to be $1.54 million. The current estimate tops $1.87 million, Larson said.

Board member Scott Steffes said he supports the tornado shelter plans. He said he saw the damage caused by the 2010 tornado that devastated Wadena.

“I know it’s a lot of money, but I think it’s something we should look into,” Steffes said.

Larson said a Department of Education official told him Tuesday that if the board changes the gym plans to have them double as tornado shelters, it would take the state a week to 10 days to re-approve the projects.

The next School Board meeting is two weeks away.

Larson said district staff will move ahead with the gym plans as they stand and wait on final approval from the state. He said if the board votes to upgrade the gyms into shelters, the paperwork can be resubmitted.

Larson said district staff may look to see if they can obtain a Federal Emergency Management Agency grant for turning a planned gym for S.G. Reinertson Elementary into a shelter. The Reinertson expansion is planned for next year.

On Monday, the School Board also voted 6-0 to make March 31 a school day. That would make up for Jan. 16 taken off for bad weather.

Superintendent Lynne Kovash said another school day will have to be scheduled to make up for the Jan 22 school closing. That recommendation will come at the end of March, she said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Helmut Schmidt at (701) 241-5583