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Kelso School District

Rising projected costs are prompting the Kelso School District to consider eliminating one of three new elementary schools it had planned to build with the $98.6 million bond voters approved in February.

Instead, the district may build one larger school at the Lexington site and rebuild Wallace Elementary while abandoning plans to rebuild Beacon Hill Elementary, district officials announced Friday.

Superintendent Mary Beth Tack and Scott Westland, the district’s finance director, said the public will be involved in the discussion on how to proceed, and Westlund said it would take about two months to make a decision.

Initial bond plans called for rebuilding Wallace and Beacon Hill elementaries and constructing a brand-new school on a 10-acre parcel of land in Lexington. If the Beacon Hill project is abandoned, the Lexington school would be built to handle up to 950 students, up from 650 as originally envisioned. Beacon Hill students would be sent there, but there would be some attendance boundary changes.

The district unveiled initial drawings for the Wallace and Lexington elementary schools two weeks ago. Construction was scheduled to be complete by fall 2020.

However, along with increases in labor and material costs, geological tests for the Wallace and Lexington sites have shown a need for more robust foundations, driving up the costs for all three schools by a total of about $20 million, Westlund said.

Costs for school construction have doubled in the last four or five years, Westlund said. “Contractors can charge whatever they want for constructing schools.”

He said the district planned for inflation, but it was caught off guard by the need to drive 40-foot long pilings for the foundations of both schools, which will be built on river deposits. The pilings prevent settling and keep foundations stable in earthquakes.

“We were not expecting to have to go so deep. That’s one of the most extreme foundation systems” that could be required, Westlund added.

In a prepared statement, Tack said “the district’s main goal is to preserve the approved bond projects to the greatest extent possible and deliver the projects on time and on budget.”

The district said it is working with Integrus Architecture and FORMA Construction to evaluate the building the designs. Two committees will reform to redefine the project scope.

Recommendations will be brought to the school board in mid-December.

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