POCATELLO — The cost of renovations to Pocatello High School has more than doubled since first estimated a year ago, but the scope of the project has also increased substantially since that time, Pocatello/Chubbuck School District 25 officials say.
Initially, School District 25 announced the $4.5 million project involved building a connector between Pocatello High School’s main classroom building, known as unit one, to the gymnasium and auditorium buildings, known as unit two, with some minor classroom and office space additions.
But now, the endeavor has evolved into a roughly $10 million project that includes a new front entrance to the school, remodeled administrative office space, 10 additional math and science classrooms, a commons area for students to congregate inside and the connector between the school’s two main buildings.
“The initial cost estimate for $4.5 million was for a building that was intended to connect unit one and unit two,” Pocatello/Chubbuck School District 25 spokesperson Courtney Fisher told the Journal in a Monday email.
“This building was projected to include administrative offices, a commons area on the main floor and a limited number of classrooms on the upper floor. School District 25 was not able to construct a building over this location due to major storm water and sewer line utilities.”
Because of the unforeseen issue with underground utilities, School District 25 was forced to look for other alternatives, and in the end, the school will ultimately be better off because of the changes, Fisher added.
The entire project has been divided into two phases. The first phase, which is nearing completion, involved constructing the new entrance and remodeled administrative office spaces. The second phase involves constructing the connector between the two main buildings and the additional classroom space.
Both phases accomplish several goals for the district, Fisher said, which include increased student safety by limiting students’ outdoor exposure, providing Americans with Disabilities Act accessibility to more than 85 percent of the school and providing additional classroom and commons areas to accommodate increased student enrollment.
Currently, Pocatello High School boasts about 1,100 students. Fisher said that number is expected to increase to 1,300 in the next two years if enrollment trends hold true.
Furthermore, the renovations also create a clear main entrance and centrally located administrative office and help to alleviate lunchroom congestion and a lack of space in the basement cafeteria.
Though the Boise-based firm working with School District 25 on the renovations, Hummel Architects, has provided the district with a bid for the second phase of the project, which slightly exceeds $9 million, School District 25 has yet to allocate more than $7.5 million toward the renovations.
The School District 25 Board of Trustees is expected to discuss and vote on allocating the additional money during a meeting at the district’s main offices on Pole Line Road at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday.
And while School District 25 officials expected the first phase of the project, which cost roughly $700,000, would reach completion by the time school started in August, some setbacks at the onset of construction have caused a delay, Fisher said.
“Some larger rock was encountered during the initial excavation of the footings for the walls, which caused delay,” Fisher said. “Additionally, subcontracted labor has been challenging during this time on account that the construction industry is very busy.”
Though administrators were able to move into their new offices before the school year began, some minor work remains before the remodeled front entrance to Pocatello High School is open for students and parents to use.
“The administrators settled into their newly remodeled suite of offices just before the school year began, but District 25 will not open the new entryway until the project is turned over to by the contractor,” Fisher said. “The railings, which rest on the inside and outside walls of the new ramp, remain to be installed, the brick finish-work will be completed next year after phase two is bid out, and, in addition to a few windows that need to be replaced, there are some other minor punch list items to be completed.”
The front entrance of the school should be open around the first of October, said Fisher, adding that a chain-link fence around the construction site has ensured no issues or concerns regarding student learning or safety.
For phase two, Fisher says School District 25 is currently in the construction document phase and should be ready to start bidding the project around the first of next year. Construction is anticipated to begin as early as April or as late as June of 2020 and should reach completion in time for the start of the 2022 school year, Fisher said.
“The designs are finalized having received approval from the City of Pocatello, but the project will need to be further evaluated by the city as with any other construction project,” Fisher said. “Exterior building designs and interior floor plans have been posted to the district’s website and through other forms of media.”
School District 25 is funding the project with monies set aside for its school plant facility levy that Bannock County voters have approved for the past several years. Fisher says the district is not using any bonds to fund the project.
The nearly $10 million project will leave about $2 million in the district’s reserve account, depending on where the bids come in for phase two, she added.
“We are looking forward to the completion of phase one of the renovations to Pocatello High School and the initiation of phase two next spring,” Fisher said. “The two phases, in tandem, will help Pocatello High School meet the needs of our learners for decades to come.”