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‘Dream’s about to happen’

Ground broken for new S. River gym

A long-time effort to build a new gymnasium at Smith River School took an emotional step forward Thursday afternoon as ground was broken for the project.

Actual construction is expected to begin next week.

Nearly 100 people attended the ceremony, including school officials and local residents who have worked for many years on the project, dating back to when the effort relied entirely on community fundraising.

The ground-breaking occurred two weeks after the School Board accepted a construction bid from Ausland Group in Grants Pass of a little less than $2.5 million.

This is about $350,000 over the estimated cost of construction, but the district is moving forward  in hopes of receiving a grant to cover more than half the balance; otherwise, it will borrow against the future sale of its bond money.

“The dream’s about to happen,” said Del Norte School District Superintendent Don Olson of the project.

He recalled growing up in Del Norte County and being frustrated by the lack of indoor athletic facilities.

In addition to Olson, other speakers on Thursday included Smith River Principal Paige Swan, county Supervisor Mike Sullivan, and two of the community fundraisers, Elaine Sallgren and Chris Doehle.

Sallgren recalled how frustrated she was as the volleyball coach when her team had to play in the old gymnasium/cafeteria.

The quarters were so cramped that volleyball players had to stand outside a door to serve the ball.

Community fundraising for a new gym began in 2004. In the meantime, Smith River Baptist Church made its gym available to the school.

The new gym will be paid for mostly with funds from the $25 million bond passed by voters in 2008.

“I really think all of Del Norte County supported Smith River in this effort,” said Swan. “It’s going to change our children’s lives. I envision it as the Smith River headquarters of our own parks and recreation.”

He called Thursday’s ground-breaking “a joyous occasion for family and friends.”

The School Board’s recent construction bid award was the second effort to secure a builder for the gym. Last year, construction bids were well over the district’s cost estimate.

 The district originally allocated $2.4 million for the gym.

The district put the project out to bid last fall, but the lowest bid  came in $900,000 over the cost estimate. The low bid then was from Ausland Group for $3.2 million.

The School Board rejected the bids and the project was modified to bring down costs.

The size of the gym was decreased slightly, the specifications changed, materials switched to less expensive ones, the time frame for construction was lengthened and playground construction was taken out of the project.

A district maintenance crew then built a new playground and outdoor basketball court.

The entire project will cost about $3.2 million (it was previously estimated at about $2.8 million), down significantly from about $3.9 million after the initial bids last year. Beyond construction costs, there are fees for the architect, engineers, inspectors, new playground equipment, demolition and relocation of the parking lot and play area.

The district has $2.4 million allocated from the first sale of bond money. The school and the Wildcat Pride Building Fund Committee has raised about $225,000, about $121,000 in bond money was reallocated and the School Board committed about $130,000. That’s just under $2.9 million, leaving a little more from $350,000 still needed to build the gym.

The Wildcat Pride Building Fund Committee has been in contact with Del Norte’s representative to the California Endowment for Building Healthy Communities and has received an indication that there could be grant money to fill more than half of the funding gap, Olson said.

 


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