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School board approves $3.5 million for Berg renovations

Brent Seaks speaks with Melanie Kathrein in a classroom in Berg Elementary as members of the Dickinson Public School Board discuss needed renovations to the school building. (Iain Woessner/The Dickinson Press)

The Dickinson Public School Board sprang to action Thursday night, taking an impromptu tour of Berg Elementary before unanimously voting to approve a maximum budget of $3.5 million for phase 1 of its renovation.

School Board President Sarah Ricks recused herself from discussion at the outset of the special meeting turning to the topic of Berg Elementary, the former sixth-grade school that will be transitioned into an elementary school next fall, citing a possible conflict of interest. Vice President Brent Seaks presided over discussion in her stead, having also served as chair for the budget development and input committee, which met prior to the meeting to discuss a proposed $3.5 million price tag for the school's renovations.

"The number I'm requesting for phase 1 of the renovation for Berg is $3.5 million," Superintendent Doug Sullivan said during the committee meeting. "Please keep in mind that there are some variables that are unknown at this time in terms of supplies for the building ... these are tentative numbers. We're hoping they trend downward rather than upward."

A list of proposed renovations was put before the board, which includes improvements to masonry and windows. Before discussion could go much further, however, board member Tanya Rude proposed that the board go and take a tour of Berg Elementary prior to making any decision about a renovation budget.

"Before we make decisions here, we (should) go look at Berg Elementary in its current state and discuss some of the items on this list," Rude said. "I think there are some legitimate things that need to be changed before we bring the administrator on board."

After some consideration, Seaks accepted the proposal and the entire proceeding moved up the street to the school to discuss Berg's needs. The tour highlighted the school's enormous gymnasium, cafeteria and some of its unique architecture, such as an overlook on the second floor that provides workspace and a view of the city.

Following the tour, Rude expressed concern about some of the proposed renovations.

"I want to throw caution out there," She said. "Some of this stuff should be left to the new administration."

Kim Schwartz, who serves on the Berg planning committee that had assembled the renovation proposals, said she felt the proposed renovations were necessary.

"This would be the perfect time to update," she said. "I don't see a lot of frills in what we need to do to open it again."

Seaks pointed out that the proposals currently before the board were just that, and not set in stone either.

"That's not a hard-and-fast document as to what would be done," Seaks said. "What the board would be doing would be allocating funds to that project ... knowing that there could be changes, but the maximum allocated funds would be $3.5 million."

Seaks also acknowledged that time was a major concern.

"I agree there should be some flexibility to this. I also respect the time constraints we're under," Seaks said. "I think we could agree that funds are needed to get that school ready to open in September, one way or another. Some of those things, how far you go, that's more the discussion point."

The $3.5 million would not include professional fees, Sullivan said. It was also said that the final cost of the project could be lower.

"This is a starting place," Seaks said.

The money would comes from the district's capital improvements fund, which Seaks said is at $14 million right now.

"Fortunately we have some money in there to do things like this," Seaks said outside of the meeting. "We also have a lot of pending capital (expenses) ... I think what's good is that we're well positioned as a district in having that money in capital improvements, that's great to have that. You have to be careful with that, but that money is there for that purpose."

More money could be put into that fund, Seaks said, but monies can't be taken out of it, and capital fund money can only be spent on capital projects, like the Berg renovation.