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Contractor selected for new Lakeland School

Mike Heine/The Week

(Published March 20, 2007, 4:20 p.m.)

Janesville-based contractor J.P. Cullen & Sons was the lowest of seven bidders and won the contract to build a new Lakeland School, a school for Walworth County children with disabilities.

Cullen won unanimous approval of the county's public works committee Monday with a bid of $14.5 million including infrastructure additions such as an entrance canopy, courtyard, gymnasium wall divider and more.

The company's base bid without the additions was $13.6 million.

Construction will likely begin in late spring to early summer and completion is expected by late summer 2008, before the start of the 2008-09 school year.

Bids ranged from Cullen's low bid to just more than $16 million.

All bids were lower than original construction estimates of $18.5 million, attributed mostly to the county seeking bids early when contractors were lining up work for the year, said Shane Crawford, public works director.

"I think it was the timing of when we released the request for proposal. There were major players that were aware we were releasing it," Crawford said. "In order to get the job, they had to be pretty tight with the pencil."

Between construction, architectural work, furnishings and contingency costs, the county will borrow between $18 million and $19 million for the school project. Original estimates were about $22 million.

Approving a contractor was permitted now because a federal judge Thursday threw out a lawsuit that could have halted the construction of the school. Disability Rights Wisconsin, a disabled persons advocacy group, argued that building the school promoted the segregation of disabled persons and violated the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The group has until April 15 to appeal the decision.

"The light at the end of the tunnel is much brighter today," said Tracy Moate, county director of special education.

Moate said she periodically updates the staff about the new school's future and excitement has been growing.

"Each update allows for more optimism that this dream really is coming true," Moate said.

The county risked financial responsibility for architectural and bidding costs by moving forward with the project with the lawsuit still unsettled. Had Disability Rights won the suit, those dollars-which Supervisor David Weber estimated at close to $1 million-might have been lost.

Bond companies were also reluctant to loan money for the project. That has changed with the dismissal of the suit, Walworth County Administrator David Bretl said. The board approved bonds last year pending dismissal of the suit.

Some supporters of Citizens for Responsible Government, a conservative taxpayers group attempting to downsize the county board, were critical of the move to could have been a significant waste taxpayer dollars.

The risk appears to have paid off.

"The lawsuit was frivolous," Weber said. "Those of us (supervisors) who make hard decisions all the time didn't see this as being any less risky or difficult."

The value of moving forward greatly outweighed risking losing money by losing the suit, Weber said. In essence, Walworth County saved between $3 million and $4 million by bidding early and spending $1 million on continuing architectural drawings and creating bid documents.

"You evaluate the subject and introduce your judgment to do the best that your experience allows," Weber said. "I'm not saying we're perfect, but there was a high degree of logic that obviously the majority of the board appreciated and was willing to move forward on."

About the school

The new Lakeland School will be about 110,000-square-feet and will be located on the south side of County NN across from the new Lakeland Health Care Center.

Plunkett Raysich Architects, a Milwaukee company, designed the relatively square facility, which will have an "outdoor classroom" courtyard in the center.

The new school has received close to $1 million in community support, which includes more than $500,000 from fund-raisers hosted by the Geneva National Foundation, Moate said.

The current school, located between Court and Jefferson streets on the city's west side, is overcrowded and inefficient, Principal Greg Kostechka said. The original building is more than 50 years old and is a patchwork of later additions.


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