Pool modernization project costs skyrocket above estimates

The new budget and timeline have school board members frustrated. Still, they want project completed

PORT ORCHARD — New cost estimates for the South Kitsap High School pool modernization project bring the total for the update to $10,415,400, nearly double the original $5,244,000 estimate.

The sticker shock had South Kitsap School District board director Jeff Daily concerned about where the funding would come from during an Aug. 4 board meeting in which capital projects manager Brent Palmason presented an update on the project.

Both Daily and Superintendent Tim Winter acknowledged the original estimate was too low. Winter said the district has known all along the project would not come in at the estimated amount, with the planning and cost estimates done years before the implementation.

In his presentation, Palmason said the reason for the price increase was partly because the original budget “did not include all the necessary repairs and replacements that are needed.”

Where the funding will come from to complete the project was Daily’s main concern. In Palmason’s presentation, he explained that the district will be applying for $2 million in federal dollars allocated during the pandemic. Public schools around the nation have received money through the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund, known as ESSER. Palmason said the pool project is relevant to this funding since ventilation and roof improvements are part of ESSER monies.

But even if ESSER funds are granted for the project, there still will be a $3,171,400 funding gap.

To bridge this, Palmason said the district is proposing to obtain funding by repurchasing from what he described as lower priority projects included in the capital levy or projects. Those projects include $1.1 million for the acquisition of property and $760,000 surplus funds from the middle school roof project. The surplus funding was money not needed for this project.

Daily strongly disapproved of repurposing funding from other projects, saying that deciding which projects to pull funding from should be a decision made by the public. He said his concern is that the capital levy was sold to the public with a completely different budget in mind.

“I hear you loud and clear,” Winter said. “We have a responsibility if we want to do anything moving forward that we complete this project with transparency and do it the right way.”

Winter acknowledged the need to be transparent about the process, but he asserted that the pool modernization was the most visible project on the levy list and is something the public wants to have completed.

Both student representatives to the board, Jesse LaCross-Lambert and Kai Wilson, agreed with that sentiment.

“We all agree that no one wants to spend that much money, but I think it’s a good investment and we have to do it one way or the other,” LaCross-Lambert said.

Daily agreed with the need and desire to complete the project, saying “I understand the need to do this project right. And I agree. But I think we need to honor what we told our taxpayers because if you want to build schools down the road or other projects, you’re going to need to show that we were able to bring this project in.”

During the discussion, he proposed two motions — one to cancel the project, which he immediately withdrew. He then introduced a second motion to halt the project until alternative funding is secured. Daily’s suggestions for alternative funding included seeking community and business partners.

The motion was voted down by the other board members. Director Rebecca Diehl said she believes in keeping the district’s word to the community but was against pausing construction, adding, “I feel very frustrated that costs just keep rising.”

During his presentation, Palmason said the pool modernization is a complex project with challenging requirements and features for the pools. Those challenges include the failure of the roof, the building’s ineffective ventilation system, and the facility’s inadequate lighting, which does not meet the code requirements established by Kitsap Public Health District.

In an attempt to address these concerns, Palmason said the district and its design consultant has come up with a project scope that includes a complete replacement of the existing roof and skylights, creating a revised shallow end with a re-sloped concrete floor, ADA lifts, and ADA-compliant restrooms, updated air distribution and exhaust systems, and other upgrades to the building and pool.

The budget also includes an added 10% construction contingency, which Palmason said gives the district some additional flexibility. The district’s design team has completed 90% of the pool’s design and will be submitting it for permitting on Aug. 16, Palmason said.

After securing permits, the district will move forward with bidding for the project, which Palmason said he hopes would happen in late October. But he did caution that depending on how things work, the district may not move to bid until after the first of the year.

Right now, it’s anticipated that construction would begin in late March 2022 and be completed in February 2023.

This schedule differs from the timeline previously presented by the district. Palmason said it is because additional evaluations were made regarding repairing the roof, addressing seismic concerns, and managing drainage of the pool during construction.

Director Liz Sebren expressed frustration the project was taking so long to complete, but said she understood why.