Unit 4 contractor: Adjusting cost estimates ‘just kind of a part of what we do’

Unit 4 contractor: Adjusting cost estimates ‘just kind of a part of what we do’

CHAMPAIGN — Keep the new Dr. Howard Elementary a two-strand school that could one day feel cramped if enrollment keeps trending up?

Or, add $1 million to the budgeted expense and transform it into a three-strand structure the student body likely won't outgrow?

Those are the types of decisions Unit 4 officials are faced with regularly as school construction begins and costs are adjusted, members of the district's referendum oversight committee were told Tuesday night.

What was originally a six-school, $183.4 million package when put before voters in 2016 has since been tweaked, with Dr. Howard the highest-profile example.

The school board opted to add to that project — pushing its price tag to $17.8 million — in anticipation of a surge in enrollment.

"Adding that million to Dr. Howard allows those three strands," board President Chris Kloeppel told committee members. "There is a recognized need — it's something we continue to look at. A large part of the purpose of the referendum is to address the capacity."

It likely won't be the last referendum-related expense that's adjusted before the heavy construction work begins on-site, officials have said.

Anytime overages do occur, the school board will make the final decision on whether to spend or save, said Elizabeth Stegmaier, the district's director of capital projects and planning.

"We're getting permission to spend over budget," she said. "We wouldn't be able to spend any money without the board's approval."

O'Shea Builders' Greg Doolin, one of several architects and designers invited by Unit 4 to Tuesday's committee meeting, tried to give a glimpse into the labor market that school projects are operating in.

"We're trying to face the headwinds of economic pressures of steel and adjust that to meet where the market is as we head into design development and construction document phases," he said. "It's not unusual to have all projects being budget-challenged.

"Just kind of a part of what we do."