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CLOQUET SCHOOL BOARD: High school remodel is underway

There’s a giant pit opening up in front of Cloquet High School. But don’t worry parents and folks heading to this weekend’s production of “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” the pit lies behind tall fencing separating the front-U from the school so there’s no danger of falling in.

When construction is complete, the pit will be transformed into a new, secure entrance for the high school.

Cloquet Schools Superintendent Ken Scarbrough explained during the Cloquet School Board meeting Monday that the new entry way will allow the school, after a certain time in the day, to route all traffic through the new, more secure entrance where they have to pass through the receptionist’s office and be cleared to gain entrance into the main school. The school’s other 30 external doors will be locked at that point, although approximately five doors will be accessible by key card, said Greg Schendel, project manager with Kraus Anderson Construction Company. Kraus Anderson was hired as the construction manager for the new middle school construction and related projects approved by voters in 2015.

This work on the high school entrance also necessitates a remodeling and relocation of several of the other offices in the CHS office complex. At the same time, the media center will be remodeled into a more open and a more collaborative and technology friendly environment, likely starting over Christmas break. Also in the design are (a) enclosed group study areas, (b) a refreshment area and accommodations for group presentations, and (c) an area for students to use their personal devices for schoolwork.

While the price tag for the high school remodeling is expected to cost nearly $1 million — higher than originally anticipated — costs for remodeling at the Garfield School are  lower than expected because some of the work has already been done with regular district/non-referendum dollars.

Board members took several actions related to school construction projects Monday, including replacing one contractor (Lipe Brothers Construction) that has not been onsite since Oct. 17 with the second lowest bidder, Ray Riihiluoma Inc., at a bid price $99,000 lower than originally submitted by the local contractor. However, Riihiluoma’s price is still approximately $93,000 higher than the Lipe Brothers’ original bid.

Board member Jim Crowley expressed gratitude to Schendel, pointing out that board members and school district staff lack the expertise to negotiate over the fine points of construction projects.

“It takes a willing contractor,” Schendel said, “and John was more than willing to take a look at it.”

Scarbrough added that district staff and the construction manager are working to identify further cost savings, but noted there is about $2 million in a contingency fund for construction project cost overruns.

He said there is also approximately $1.1 million in the budget to abate any asbestos, salvage what they can, and demolish the old middle school, should the school district fail to find another developer who wants to reuse the building on Carlton Avenue.

“If we sell it, then that $1.1 million could be used in the school construction projects,” Scarbrough said. He said the previous developer, Sherman Associates, pulled out of the purchase agreement after their proposal to turn it into affordable apartments failed to secure state funding, adding that he has already spoken with another developer very interested in the building.

Scarbrough suggested and school board members agreed to form an ad hoc committee to look into possibilities for the middle school, possibly enter into negotiations for a purchase agreement which would repurpose the CMS property, and bring a recommendation to the full school board about what to do with the CMS property on Carlton Avenue.

In other matters Monday, Chad Dunaiski of WIPFLI CPAs and Consultants presented the results of the annual audit for the school district, which earned an unmodified (the best) opinion on the basic financial statements. Dunaiski strongly suggested that student activity accounts be held to a higher standard and require greater documentation for funds received and spent.

At the end of the board meeting, Scarbrough and board members discussed the possibility of capping open enrollment numbers in the future. Scarbrough is going to explore different ways of doing that for a future board meeting.