School plans go out for construction bids

Lawsuit could halt further progress

By Mike Heine/The Week

(Published Dec. 19, 2006, 11:38 a.m.)

Even with a pending federal lawsuit that could put a lid on plans, the Walworth County Public Works Committee voted 4-1 Monday to continue forward with planning for building a new Lakeland School.

The move allows Plunkett Raysich Architects to submit blueprints for the 109,000-square-foot facility to pre-qualified construction companies for bids at a time when bidding should be most competitive and advantageous to the county.

The question, however; is did the committee make the right move in going forward when a federal judge could side with Disability Rights Wisconsin, the advocacy group that filed the suit, and declare the project as promoting segregation in violation of Americans with Disabilities Act standards?

"I can't approve going out to bid when we don't know what's going to happen with this lawsuit. It's throwing the dice," said County Board Chairwoman Ann Lohrmann, who cast the lone dissenting vote.

If a judge sides with Disability Rights, the county could be wasting money in planning for a building it cannot legally build.

Waiting until a judicial decision is made, which could come in days, weeks or perhaps months, could cost the county hundreds of thousands or perhaps more than $1 million if a judge says the plan is allowable.

"I'm going to support going forward because I think the suit will be resolved. We know that if we wait we're going to end up with higher costs," Supervisor Jim Van Dreser said.

Disability Rights argues that building a bigger school for children with disabilities further promotes the segregation of those students from mainstream society. It would not be against a school the same size or smaller than the existing Lakeland School.

The county has had three legal opinions that a stand-alone school for such children is within the confines of the law.

Disability Rights filed its complaint July 31 and has made one motion to continue the case.

Walworth County has made two motions to dismiss the case.

The case is pending in front of Judge Rudolph T. Randa, a federal judge in the U.S. District Court in Milwaukee.

The county expects a decision before approving construction company bids, Administrator David Bretl said. However, the decision comes at the leisure of the judge and could take a year or more, Bretl said.

It's unlikely the county would approve a contractor or groundbreaking without a decision. A delay would likely force the county to re-bid the project, which would raise costs and make it unlikely for a school to be completed by the 2008 school year.

Before any ground is broken the county would need to approve financing for the $19.8 million project.

Banks are hesitant to issue general obligation municipal bonds when there is a pending lawsuit, Supervisor David Weber said. The county has at least seven other borrowing options, but all include higher interest rates and shorter terms, Weber added.

Costs lowered
Plunkett Raysich Architects was able to reduce the costs of the project from an anticipated $22.4 million to $19.8 million without losing floor space, primarily through categorizing building amenities as "add alternates."

For instance, removing gymnasium and classroom partitions saves $138,600 and not fully developing a courtyard saves $300,000. The company also slashed the amount of new equipment for the school in half, saving $750,000.

The 11 alternate elements could be added back into the project as the county board chooses. It's also possible construction bids could come in lower than the anticipated $19.8 million costs, said Kim Dale Hassell, partner with Plunkett Raysich Architects.

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