Highland Park issues plague school board


Alice Campbell Havre Daily News acampbell@havredailynews.com

A request for discussions on the contracts for an addition to Highland Park Early Primary School South has been rejected by the Havre School Board. The board has denied a request from 21 area residents for a special meeting or agenda item on the awarding of the contract. The request, which included 23 additional signatures, was spearheaded by Debi Rhines. In a phone interview Monday, she said she questioned the Havre Public Schools Board of Trustee's decision to choose an out-of-town contractor instead of local contractor Clausen and Sons Inc., which submitted a proposal in competition with Dick Anderson Construction Inc. of Helena and Sletten Companies of Great Falls. She is co-owner of Bear Paw Technologies, and her husband owns Schine Electric Schine subcontracts for Clausen, but not for the majority of its jobs, Rhines said but she's concerned as a taxpayer, she said. She pays taxes in support of the school system, as a resident and as a business owner, she said. "So why are they taking my tax dollars and sending them down the highway?" Trustee Norm Proctor, who nominated Dick Anderson Construction Inc. for the job, gave their slightly lower estimated rate per square foot as a reason at the time of the nomination. In a Construction Manager At Risk Process, contractors must absorb any costs over the budgeted funds. If they come in under the estimated costs, that money is saved by the schools. The stimulus money that is being used might not cover the entire project and any extra funds needed will come from the schools' building reserve fund, the board's Chairperson Shad Huston has said. Rhines reiterated her concerns during the trustees' quarterly planning meeting Tuesday evening, asking how much money the schools expect to save using Anderson, and what the scores were when the three firms in the running were interviewed. Board members used a rubrics system provided by Nelson Architects of Great Falls, which is working with the schools and Anderson to create building plans. But those numbers were not saved, Superintendent Dave Mahon said. The Construction Manager At Risk process that was used to award the project, was used per Mahon's recommendation to make every effort possible to combine kindergarten and first-grade students in the same building by fall 2010. Because federal stimulus money is being used to fund the bulk of the project, the schools had to move quickly to be awarded the funds, said Shad Huston, chairman of the board of trustees. While Anderson was awarded the construction manager position for the approximately $1.5 million addition of classrooms, offices and storage space, Huston previously said that no subcontractors have been chosen and that all local contractors interested will have an opportunity to put their names in the hat for consideration. Just because those subcontractors have not been chosen, doesn't mean that local ones will be, Rhines said during the meeting Tuesday. In a letter to Rhines, Huston wrote, "At this time I am denying the request to be put on the regularly scheduled board meeting on November 10th as an Action Item. I am also denying the request to hold a Special Public Meeting. "The board stands firmly behind their decision and is moving forward with the construction manager at risk that has been chosen." Rhines this morning said that's she's done trying. "If they're not going to listen to us, I'm going to push really hard to make sure that this person doesn't get re-elected she said."


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