Mickelson Middle School classes pushed back to Sept. 4

Matthew Rhodes/Register: There’s plenty of construction activity around Mickelson Middle School as workers hurry to get the school ready for students. This photo shows the school’s southeast side. Construction on the MMS remodeling and expansion project is behind schedule, so much so that the first day of classes for middle schoolers has been pushed back to Sept. 4.

Registration Sept. 3, teachers in classrooms by Aug. 30

BROOKINGS – The Brookings School Board has voted 5-0 to postpone the start of classes at Mickelson Middle School to Sept. 4 due to construction delays. 

Registration and an open house at MMS are on Sept. 3, and MMS teachers will be able to get into their classrooms starting Aug. 30, when the contractor turns over the building.

None of the other schools in Brookings will have a delayed start; they will all begin classes as expected Aug 23.

The current portion of remodeling and expansion at Mickelson Middle School is already a week beyond its contracted end date, Aug. 9.

“And really the most viable option for the district and really for the operations of MMS is to delay the start of Mickelson – specifically – we would continue with operations everywhere else but look to delay the start of operations with MMS as a result of the missed deadlines by the contractor,” Superintendent Klint Willert told the Register Thursday morning. “That is, frankly, unacceptable.”

Mickelson has a total of 825 students for this year.

Gray Construction workers and contractors are putting in overtime and working weekends to finish the current bid package at the school. 

Beginning today, the district can charge the contractor $25,000 in liquidated damages and inconveniences for every day the project is not complete. The estimated $25,000 per day comes from totaling the cost of staff, administration and faculty; this amount excludes utility costs.

The decision to postpone the start of classes was finalized at a special school board meeting held at Dakota Prairie Elementary Thursday evening.

ATS&R architect Eric Anderson, one of the lead architects on the nearly $25 million MMS project, and MMS Principal Tim Steffensen and Vice Principal Todd Foster gave options as to what could be done to begin school on time, as well as an overview of the construction progression at MMS.

For school to begin on time, some of the options were having five displaced classes and potentially having two to three teachers share a single classroom or having classes at the Boys & Girls Club. Steffensen strongly advised against these options simply to have school begin on time and recommended beginning school after Labor Day weekend.

Anderson said Gray Construction suffered significant setbacks due to a wet fall and a harsh winter. There have also been a plethora of structural and electrical issues, Anderson said.

The extent of how unfinished certain classrooms and other areas are varies.

Anderson assured the board that the safety and security of the students and faculty would be their priority.

“The staff and administration are bearing the brunt of this scheduling slight,” Anderson said. “My deepest empathies to the teachers and staff; this is a significant disappointment.”

School board member Mellissa Heermann called the delay disappointing and asked what assurances the district has that Gray Construction will now finish the project by Aug. 30. 

Anderson gave a detailed list and schedule that Gray Construction provided along with a letter of intent for the new timeline. 

“(But) your concern is a valid one,” Anderson said.

No ideas were solidified as to how to make up the lost time the students would have with a late start. A few ideas included modifications to school days and/or the removal of events and assemblies during the school year, but adding extra school days onto the year was not among them.

School Board President Van Fishback inquired at Monday’s school board meeting whether Gray Construction was aware of the “legal recourse” the school board can take due to damages and inconveniences. 

Board member Roger DeGroot also expressed his discontent toward Gray Construction and ATS&R and wanted to know if Gray Construction is making as much of a sacrifice as the Brookings School District is based on how far behind construction is.

“We expect them to pay for the inconvenience they’ve placed upon us,” Fishback said at Monday’s school board meeting.

“We know this is a huge inconvenience for families and parents, though the one challenge I would give to everybody is to try and remain as optimistic and positive about this as possible. Because, in the scope and scheme of things, while this is a major inconvenience right now, when this project is done, we’re going to have an exceptional middle school building,” Willert said in an interview with the Register Thursday morning.

Contact Matthew Rhodes at [email protected]

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