Triplicate Staff

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


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


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.