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District 833 awards $2.2M contract for anticipated construction work

School District 833 will use its previously contracted construction management firm for the school building projects it plans in coming years.

A split South Washington County School Board awarded a new contract to Kraus-Anderson to oversee work on a new middle school and construction at other buildings. The district also will retain architectural firm ARY for design work.

Administrators and board members praised both firms’ past work for the district as reason to continue using them, but some board members also expressed concern with awarding a new contract to Kraus-Anderson without requesting other proposals.

The district’s long-range facilities plan is estimated to cost roughly $180 million and would need voter approval through a bond referendum. As construction manager, Kraus-Anderson is poised to receive a fee of 1.75 percent of construction costs, or roughly $2.2 million.

District 833 has contracted with Kraus-Anderson three times since 2000, including for the East Ridge High School project. The first contract was awarded through a request for proposal, a process that met Minnesota Department of Education guidelines, said Mike Vogel, assistant to the superintendent for operations. Those guidelines note that it is reasonable and appropriate to continue contracts with a firm if previous work was satisfactory, he said.

Kraus-Anderson has managed roughly $300 million of District 833 construction, and the work always has been done on time and on or under budget, Vogel said.

The contracts were discussed by the School Board twice last month and approved Nov. 20. Vogel said the district wanted a board discussion because “as a public institution we have an obligation to use a fair and open process in our selection and contracting process.”

The Kraus-Anderson contract vote was 5-2, with board members Katie Schwartz and Katy McElwee-Stevens opposing it.

“I think for me it’s just a matter of it’s been 14 years,” McElwee-Stevens said. “It’s public money. I just think it’s a matter of not that I have any complaints at all against Kraus-Anderson — it’s just time.”

Board member Laurie Johnson said her husband was a school architect in another state and designed many schools but always had to go through a competitive bid process. Yet she added that she has heard only good things about Kraus-Anderson and ARY, with which District 833 has had an open-ended contract for eight years.

Johnson was supportive of the contracts, but added in reference to the Kraus-Anderson arrangement: “I don’t think we should make a practice of it in the future. I think we really need to adhere to the process of being transparent, open and available for other companies to do business with.”

Board Chairman Ron Kath supported giving the contract to Kraus-Anderson because of its strong track record with the district. In comparison, there were problems with three district projects managed by other construction firms, Kath said. That included Red Rock Elementary, an addition at Liberty Ridge Elementary and the Black Box theater at East Ridge High School.

“We used a different construction management company for that project and we had a wall fall down,” Kath said of the theater.

Construction management firms tend to submit similarly priced proposals, Kath said.

“I don’t see where we’re going to get major savings,” he said of requesting other proposals. “I think to have that experience and that rapport is worth something for this district and I think the quality of work speaks for itself.”

Scott Wente

Scott Wente has been editor at the South Washington County Bulletin since 2011. He worked as a reporter at other Forum Communications newspapers from 2003 to 2011.

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