District drafting contract with ATS&R

BROOKINGS – The Brookings School District is moving forward with negotiations on a contract with architecture firm ATS&R as the group it wants to take the lead on the school district’s comprehensive facility plan.

“I anticipate we will have a contract drafted and ready to go as early as this Jan. 22 meeting,” Brookings School District Superintendent Klint Willert said in reference to the upcoming school board workshop meeting.

The school board first selected ATS&R for this role during its Dec. 28 work session, on a 4-1 vote, with Van Fishback dissenting.

The Brookings School District facility planning committee had narrowed the list of potential firms down to three: ATS&R, a Golden Valley, Minnesota, firm; Architecture Inc., a Sioux Falls firm; and JLG Architects, an Alexandria, Minnesota, firm with a Brookings location.

During the Dec. 28 meeting, the school board interviewed each firm, and members made their decision afterward. For the most part, the board was happy with the interviews of all three groups – as Steve Bayer remarked during discussion, they “were down to nitpicking at this point … between three very qualified firms.”

ATS&R stood out to some of members of the school board for different reasons.

“I thought they had the strongest sense of a true team spirit,” Jennifer Lacher-Starace said during the December meeting, adding that their focus on students and their work philosophy were also commendable.

Mellissa Heermann liked that they had a lot of services under one roof, such as engineering, structural, technology, hardware and landscaping services, to name a few. Being able to have that varied expertise from one group helps to streamline the work, negating the need to bring in help from other companies.

In particular, Willert said their knowledge and past experience with future-ready classrooms made them an appealing partner for the school district. Future-ready classrooms are a new way of designing classroom space that prioritizes flexibility, allowing for a greater variety of instructional methods to happen in a classroom.

Their commitment to hold weekly construction meetings with the school district and serve as the district’s representative was also commended by Willert.

“They (the other firms) were talking like every two weeks. Well, when you’re in the throes of construction, you sometimes need to be more timely than that,” he said in a follow-up interview.

If the school board approves a contract with ATS&R at the Jan. 22 meeting, work on implementing the school district comprehensive facility plan can quickly begin, with Mickelson Middle School as the top priority.

“We know we have that large class coming, and we have approximately 18-20 months before they’re arriving at the front doors of the middle school,” Willert said. “I know that that’s an extremely tight deadline when you think about developing contract documents and designs and all those elements and then to actually get shovels in the ground and get additions made.”

According to the school board’s list of prioritized projects in the district under the comprehensive facility plan, the next two highest prioritized projects are renovations and upgrades of Hillcrest Elementary and Medary Elementary schools.

The board members reminded members of the audience during the Jan. 8 meeting that funds for building projects are from a separate part of the district budget from salaries and staffing, and funds from one can’t just be transferred to another.

“That comes up a lot,” school board member Steve Bayer said. “The money for building and the money for operating those buildings are different funds and they don’t cross.”

Contact Eric Sandbulte at [email protected]

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