$45.6 million contract for Blanding Elementary

by David Boyle
News Director
The maximum cost of construction for the new Blanding Elementary School is $45.6 million. Members of the San Juan School Board approved a guaranteed maximum price (GMP) contract with Westland Construction as part of the work to build a new elementary school in Blanding at the May 8 meeting.
School District Business Administrator Tyrel Pemberton reported some good news on the project. He said that construction cost estimates in February were actually higher than the guaranteed maximum price the board was presented by Westland Construction at the May meeting.
A bid package cost sheet outlined 33 different elements of the building, including general requirements, concrete, plumbing, and earthwork.
Other items listed included contingency, permits, insurance and bonds all totaling $45.6 million for the hard construction costs.
That amount came in less than the February estimate of $45.8 million, which did not include three additional classrooms totaling 3,000 square feet added to the project in the months previous.
The approved cost of construction document included Westland’s proposed awards for subcontractors. Representatives from Westland said they received at least three bids on each item, with the company reporting contacting local subcontractors, as well as reaching out to other qualified subcontractors in a 500-mile radius.
Westland said they had an intensive reach-out process to include local contractors, noting the project requires qualified subcontractors with bond capacity, insurance, and an ability to keep pace with the project. 
Chris Kartchner of Westland said some local subcontractors ultimately elected not to bid because of workload requirements, but locals are expected to see work on the project.
“Several local subcontractors are the planned awarded subcontractors right now. Other subcontractors are actually talking to locals in terms of subletting those subcontractors for specific workload requirements, labor assistance, things like that.”
Board member Merri Shumway made a motion asking that as part of the approval of the GMP contract authorization include a district review of the subcontractors awarded and a review of the contract. That motion failed without a second.
District staff shared that there would be a review of the construction contract prior to signing, and that Westland selects subcontractors as they take on liability.
Shumway shared her concern that “nobody on the board or administrators that work directly under the board has had a part in that,” meaning subcontractor selection.
Board member Steven Black recalled that members of the school board did not review subcontractors when the Bluff Elementary school was built 
Members of the board unanimously voted to approve the GMP.
Members of the San Juan School board also reviewed payroll survey results and got a first look at the next year’s budget at their latest meeting.
The board reviewed data from a staff survey of preferences for frequency of payroll.
Pemberton explained the district sent out the survey to 699 workers, including everyone who received a paycheck from the district in the past pay period. 
Of 274 district staff members who responded, 60.6 percent prefer the district continue to administer payroll once a month, while 39.4 percent prefer twice a month payments.
Of those that responded, about half are licensed or administrative employees. Of those, 67 percent prefer once a month payments. Among classified employees, including career classified, career classified exempt and substitute employees, 53 percent prefer once a month payments vs 47 percent who prefer twice monthly payments.
At the April board meeting, members of the board approved the administration of a staff survey after the topic was discussed in both the March and April meetings.
Black said he is surprised by the survey results which he said make him less of a proponent of a change.
“If that’s what the employees want to stay and the district saves money but not having extra payroll processing, that’s a win-win.”
Board Member Nelson Yellowman who has long advocated for twice a month payments, noted classified employees are less likely to respond to the survey, and noted that the service is still needed for those that request it.
Yellowman motioned to approve the change during board actions but the motion failed without a second.
Members of the San Juan School Board also approved negotiated contracts for district employees, including annual salary level and continuing education advancement increases, known as steps and lanes, an increase of $504 to each step on the licensed salary schedule for qualified licensed employees and a salary schedule base increase of 3.7 percent. 
The approved negotiated contracts were a part of the preliminary annual budget with a hearing for the annual budget scheduled for June. 
The 89-page preliminary budget document included beginning fund balances, revenues and expenditures for FY23, the revised budget for FY24 that ends in June and proposed budget for FY25.
Revenues in FY23 were $52.6 million with $49 million in expenditures, the revised FY24 budget had $56.6 million in revenue with $56.1 in expenditures, the preliminary proposed FY25 budget has $52.3 million in revenue with $52.3 million in expenditures with $22 million available in existing funds held by the district.
Pemberton noted that decreasing student counts since 2021 has had an impact on funding, the district also noted that this year they will no longer be receiving Federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Funds, which was part of billions of dollars in federal Covid-19 response funds set-aside in 2020.
Approving the annual budget will be a part of the board’s June meeting.
Members of the board also heard an update from Utah State University Blanding Senior Associate Vice President Kristian Olsen.
Olsen reported that the university and the district saw an increase in the number of high school students taking college courses through concurrent enrollment programs. Olsen reported an increase from 427 students last year to 534 students who took at least one concurrent enrollment class, noting there were 1,018 instances of students in concurrent enrollment up from 734 from the previous year.
Olsen also provided an update on the Utah State University Monument Valley building which is being built on district property in Monument Valley.
Olsen shared they are on track for a groundbreaking in early August with an 18-month build period hopefully meaning the building will be operating in Spring 2026. The building will include a welding lab, CNA and health care labs, a cooking space and meeting rooms.
Olsen noted the project has been paid for by many generous donors including $5 million from the state of Utah and $5 million from USU, as well as $1 million from the Ray and Tye Noorda foundation and a $1 million dollar donation from a private equity firm as well as a half-million dollars from the Navajo Nation and other donors.
At the meeting members of the school board also recognized Mitzi Nielson and Alfred Billie with San Juan Sweet Job awards.

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