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DHS expansion planning continues as workshop discusses options

The Dickinson Public School Board met for a noontime workshop on Wednesday where they discussed the design proposal for Dickinson High School, which faces capacity issues in the coming years.

No motions were made during the workshop, but it was decided that the board would look into the potential cost savings of hiring another architectural and engineering firm as the project closes in on its final form.

"At some point, it makes sense as well to say 'What's best for the district?'" school board President Brent Seaks said following the meeting. "(The current firm) may still be what's best for the district, but it's important to give others the opportunity (to bid)."

Currently the district has paid for the services of the architectural and engineering firm DLR Group for the first phase of a four-phase design plan. DLR previously worked with the district in the design of Dickinson Middle School. The first phase involved DLR compiling staff and community input. The next phase of the construction plan is programming, followed by design.

"So initially (DLR Group) came out with three different paths ... Based on that (community) input, (the decision was) to renovate the existing high school and to be more community-minded with that integration and so forth," Seaks elaborated. "That's the biggest piece that came out of phase one, which lets you move forward prioritizing these other pieces."

The priorities established by DLR include providing furniture, fixtures and equipment as a top priority, followed by construction of an applied learning center and renovations or additions to the commons area. A full list of priorities, including building a performing arts center, academic additions and renovations, a physical-education addition and general building renovations, was estimated to come to roughly $100 million, should all of those projects be implemented.

"My understanding is, everything they had listed as a priority, they had eight of them, and to do all eight of those would cost roughly $100 million," Seaks said. "But we could very easily say we're going to do the top three priorities (which would be cheaper.)"

Board member Tanya Rude expressed concerns about immediately moving forward with DLR for the remainder of the design work. She said it was important to allow other firms to at least have an opportunity to bid.

"It's partly (for) saving money, but it's also giving other firms an opportunity to put in on our school district," Rude said. "There's a lot of other firms, and I think there are some local firms who can do something similar. Is it at the same price? I don't know, but I think we should check into it."

A delay to the current timetable could result in headaches for the district, according to Superintendent Doug Sullivan, who said that the high school will be over capacity by September 2020. Taking on another firm at this time could cause a potentially unknowable delay. Meeting attendees said, among other concerns, that a new firm may not be willing to take on a $100 million project based on another organization's work, and the process may start over from scratch, which would only delay it even further.

Outgoing DHS Principal Ron Dockter urged the board to take action.

"I just think you need to get after it. Next year, for example, it'll be two years before we completely run out of room, but next year, we'll have three, maybe four teachers floating, which means they'll be teaching in whatever room is open," Dockter said. "The year after that, we'll have even more."

He went on to say more plainly that he doesn't think any delay would be a good thing for the school.

"In my opinion, if you do end up changing something, that will set the timeline back," Dockter said.

A certain period of time must be allotted to putting in requests for quotes and bids for construction projects. However, the board expressed interest in allowing this process only a brief period of time before a final decision is made.

The exact cost and specific details for the renovation still are not determined, but Gibbs said that he'd estimate a 300- to 350-student applied learning center addition could come at a cost of around $15 million to $20 million.