Architect sought for dome plan
Abby school board urged to send out RFPs for design
With over $2 million in federal funding about to become available in the near future, the Abbotsford School District is poised to start looking for an architect to design a multi-purpose dome structure that can be used as both a storm shelter and a space for extra classrooms.
On Monday, the district’s facilities committee voted to recommend that the full school board send requests for proposals (RFPs) to various engineering firms willing to provide designs for the structure, 75 percent of which would be paid for by FEMA.
The district’s match is expected to be about $1 million, which will cover 25 percent of the dome construction itself plus all of the interior furnishings. District officials are exploring multiple revenue sources for that match, including unused maintenance funds and donations from the public.
Jordan Buss, a consultant who helped Spencer and other local school districts with similar FEMA-funded dome projects, spoke to committee members Monday about the next steps in making the proposal a reality.
Based on the federal government’s timeline, Buss expects FEMA to officially award the grants this month and make the funds available in January.
The district was informed in June that it had qualified for a grant of over $2 million, but that is contingent on the district providing a local match and getting the dome built by 2023. Because of initial uncertainty about the local funding match, the district has not formally accepted the FEMA grant at this point, but Buss is urging school board members to pursue the proposal as far as possible before making a final decision.
“Until you request reimbursement and actually obtain those funds, you can always deny the grant at a later date,” he said.
Superintendent Sherry Baker said Buss’s experience has shown him that FEMA money is not always going to be available more than once.
“Once you turn it down, you’ll never get another crack at it,” she told committee members.
The district is at the point where it needs to start making plans for the dome to be built.
Baker said the board can either hire an architectural engineer — like it did when it built new classrooms two years ago — or hire a construction manager/ architect, but that could present some issues due to federal funding rules.
Under those rules, the firm that puts together the specs for the building must be very careful when placing a bid to also do the construction. Buss said most construction managers will want to try and do some of the work themselves.
“If that is the case, the construction manager cannot be involved with the front-end specs and the construction drawing...” he said “...because they could potentially write those specs so they have a competitive advantage in the bidding process.”
Buss said “that could actually sideline them during the design process, which complicates things.”
To avoid that type of issue, Baker and Buss recommended the board seeks proposals directly from architectural firms.
Baker said the board is under no obligations to hire a firm once the district sends out requests for proposals.
“Just because you put something in an RFP doesn’t mean you’re committed to it,” she said. “It just means you’re asking for bids.”
Baker said the board’s finance committee needs to meet and agree to using district money on architectural services.
“We don’t want to draw off that grant until we know we’re getting ready to go,” she said.
Buss said any expenses incurred by the district before the grant is officially accepted cannot be reimbursed by Wisconsin Emergency Management, the state agency that distributes FEMA funds.
Baker said she would like the full board to act on the committee’s recommendation at its Dec. 21 meeting so the district’s administrative team can prepare the RFPs and send them out in time for a firm to be hired in early 2021.
“I think it’s doable to go out for RFPs for an architect and then you decide ‘Are we really ready to move forward on this, and are we ready to pay for this?’” she said. “Because, at some point, we are going to need that grant.”