New school meat lab idea fails to make the cut | Government and Politics

ADELLA HARDING Elko Daily Correspondent

ELKO – Another try for a much lower-cost meat processing lab at Spring Creek High School for career and technical education students failed to gain much traction from Elko County School District trustees as they struggle to conserve and wisely spend the last of the pay-as -you-go tax money for construction.

The latest proposal pares estimated costs for the meat lab from roughly $7.5 million to $2.3 million to $2.5 million, according to Steven Smith, construction and operations manager for the school district. He said the original plan was “based off a larger project with a diesel shop. We’ve condensed that.”

He told the board on July 26 that the new plan would be for a 4,800-square-foot, pre-engineered building and design fees would be $131,000.

Smith had said at the board’s June 28 meeting that the estimated price of $4 million for the originally planned CTE lab had gone up to as much as $8 million because of rising costs in material and labor. Also, design fees for the original plan would be roughly $400,000.

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Trustee Jeff Durham said on July 26 that he couldn’t support anything new until the district’s project funding changes because “we have to guard” the capital improvement funds, “so that’s going to be my position for now.”

He said that “as much as CTE helps,” the district has to keep up with maintenance projects, such as boilers, and “we need reading, writing and arithmetic to keep going, too.”

Trustee Susan Neal said she would like to see what the public tells MGT Consulting, a firm hired to develop a facility needs plan for the school district, and she wants to be conservative with the capital funds. She said, however, that she wanted to know how many students would benefit from the CTE meat lab.

She said CTE is “great,” but she agreed with Durham that there are concerns about the money.

The budget for the 2022-2023 fiscal year shows a balance of $14.7 million for capital construction projects.

Smith’s proposal to the board was for approval to spend the roughly $131,000 on design fees for the new lab plan that would include adding modular pads and new modular placement on the high school campus. However, the board didn’t act on that idea.

Trustee Ira Hansen asked Smith about the suggestion at the last board meeting that an empty classroom be used for the meat lab, and Smith said that could become a solution to lower costs. Hansen also said that he wants “to put the brakes on spending” but there is a shortage of qualified meat packers, and that is one reason a “T-bone steak is $19 a pound.”

Questions the board wants answered include classroom use, how many students a meat lab at Spring Creek would benefit, and how successful is the meat lab in Wells.

Teresa Dastrup, the board president who joined the meeting remotely so Wines presided over the meeting, said if Spring Creek had the lab, it could keep students in Elko County, and she believes the meat lab could be beneficial in the wake of current food issues .

“I think this is something that could greatly benefit our community. If we do have a packing plant come in, we will have the students ready for employment and it will keep people in Elko County,” she said.

Dastrup said if the board doesn’t want to approve the design fees, then it should seek more information before “you reject continuing this project.” Superintendent Clayton Anderson said he would get numbers for the board.

“I’d like this to come back to the board,” Trustee Matt McCarty said.

The school board’s concerns about preserving construction funds also tied in with a vote to approve the district’s five-year capital improvement plan that lists $2.4 million for Spring Creek High CTE labs for the 2023-2024 school year.

The list for the current school year includes natural gas conversion at Spring Creeks schools, $194,820; telephones and intercom upgrades, $500,000; fire alarm upgrades, $900,000; and Americans with Disabilities Act compliance, other renovations and mechanical upgrades, a little more than $2.4 million for a total of $4 million.

The plan through the 2024-2025 school year looks at projects potentially within the limit of pay-as-you-go funds that expired on June 30 of this year after voters failed in 2020 to approve continuing the 75-cent tax that the district used to pay for building projects without going into debt. Voters also rejected a 50-cent bond proposal in 2021 for school projects.

The plan goes beyond current funding, however, for the 2025-2026 school year when it calls for spending nearly $10.7 million for a gym and classrooms at Northside Elementary School and $58.7 million for a new elementary school in Elko.

McCarty said the newest school in Elko is 40 years old and the average age of the school buildings is 63 years.

Anderson said the five-year plan is an annual process, and “there is nothing final in any of this. We can adjust this however we want.”

He said MGT’s input can be used for future five-year plans, but the current plan is “vital in showing needs exist, so hopefully in the near future we can try again” for voter approval for project funding.

Anderson also said the ADA projects are needed because if the district doesn’t show progress it won’t be compliant, so the plan includes $2.2 million for each of the four years following the current year.

The school board also approved the district’s debt management plan that Chief Financial Officer Julie Davis said is “a formality because we don’t have any debt.”

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