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School district uncertain if it will consider other architects, construction managers

It’s been a big month for the Cloquet School District, which saw a referendum asking voters to approve bonds for nearly $49 million to build a new middle school pass by 225 votes on Feb. 10.

On Feb. 17 the Board ratified the vote totals: 1,575 people voted "yes" on Question 1, and 1,350 voted "no." A second question asking voters to approve a nearly $7 million auditorium at the new middle school failed to pass.

Also Feb. 17, Superintendent Ken Scarbrough told the board that when members went through the interview process to select an architect and engineering firm to conduct facilities assessments and help with the referendum process, they hired them for more than that.

The original contract with Kraus-Anderson, working with partners Vox Liberi of Sauk Rapids, Minn., and Architects Rego + Youngquist (ARY) of Minneapolis, was reported as being for $16,000 payable after a successful referendum. However, Scarbrough said Feb. 17 that the contract included “the understanding that if the referendum election was successful, the district would contract with their firms to do the construction management and provide architectural services, upon agreeing to terms outlined in a new contract,” the minutes stated.

The night of the referendum vote, he had stated that it was the Board’s decision whether or not to solicit proposals from other architects and engineers, or stay with the companies hired to help with the referendum.

In a committee meeting Friday, Feb. 20, according to Finance Director Kim Josephson, the fees for Kraus-Anderson are proposed to be between 5 and 7 percent of the project costs. At nearly $49 million, that comes in between $2.45 and $3.4 million.

In a Monday interview with the Pine Journal, Josephson said he couldn’t answer the question of whether or not the selection of an architectural firm and an construction manager for the massive project is effectively a “done deal.” He suggested that Scarbrough — who was not at the meeting Monday and out of the office most of Tuesday — was the one who should answer that question.

At this week’s Monday Board meeting, held with the superintendent and two school board members (Dan Danielson and Duane Buytaert) absent, definitive answers on the question of whether or not the district could solicit RFPs (requests for proposals) from other firms for the $49 million project were also nowhere to be found.

However, Scarbrough responded to emailed questions from the Pine Journal Wednesday morning:

“Upon reviewing the contract that we entered into with Kraus-Anderson two years ago,” he wrote in an email, “we see the following language:”

Kraus-Anderson Construction Company agrees to hire the services of ARY Architects as a team member for architectural planning and programming and Hallberg Engineering for preliminary maintenance  study and review. The cost and scope of these outside services are included in the overall bid price. The Owner agrees, after a successful referendum, to continue to use the service of Kraus-Anderson and ARY in a newly developed contract.

The Owner agrees to issue payments to Kraus-Anderson in one payment after the completion of the study (and referendum) for the total payment  of $16,000. All information and related data (including investigation reports) for which the Owner will pay under this letter agreement will be delivered to the Owner, when possible, in the form of "functional files" including but not limited to Excel, Word, PowerPoint, AutoCAD, etc. The Owner shall not use such studies and design documents for completion of this Project(s) by others without the involvement of qualified professionals who shall assume the professional obligations and liability of Kraus-Anderson and ARY and their design professionals for design work not completed.

To the fullest extent permitted by law, the Owner shall indemnify and hold harmless Kraus­-Anderson and ARY from and against all claims, damages, losses, and expenses, including but not limited to, attorneys' fees, arising out of or resulting from the use or reuse of such design documents by the Owner, or its affiliates, successors and assigns, other than in accordance with this letter agreement.

Scarbrough said the district is currently having this language reviewed by legal counsel.

“We will look at all of our options and obligations before we sign any additional contracts for construction management services,” he said, adding that the district has always planned to bring “as much work to Cloquet as possible.”

In other matters Monday:

Former School Board candidate and “Vote No” advocate Jim Mallery II congratulated the board on the Feb. 10 community vote in favor of the referendum during the open forum portion of the meeting, expressing his hopes that the board would have a policy of “transparency and fiscal responsibility” moving forward, adding that he’d like to see the district build an energy efficient building and employ “right and proper staff” to manage and maintain it.

“I hope the board is willing to work with us and listen to us as community members to unite the community,” he said.

Board member Jim Crowley thanked Mallery.

“I think we do need different opinions; it keeps us thinking and on our toes,” he said.

In regular business, the Board quickly passed votes on wire transfers of money, a transportation contract for a parent to transport a special education student, and heard from Josephson that enrollment was holding steady. There were no presentations.

The final 15 minutes of Monday’s 30-minute meeting was taken up by the discussion about the terms of the agreement with Kraus-Anderson and ARY and whether or not the district will hire local companies to construct the new school, among other things.

Mallery pointed out that some of the repair costs cited by Kraus-Anderson in its report on the old middle school such as $475 per door to go from knob- to a latch-style door handles were “astronomically high” and that the Board should take care with these early but important decisions. (Editor's note: We made a correction to the original story, which incorrectly stated $475,000 to change all the door handles at the middle school.)

“Proceed with caution,” Mallery said. “It’s not good to be in bed with a company that you’ve been in bed with before.”