The Ashland School Board on Monday approved a guaranteed maximum price of $13 million on the high school construction project.




The board also passed a resolution to continue work on the farm-to-school program to introduce local produce into school lunches.




Original cost estimates of the construction project came in over budget by $2 million, and the district has spent the last month wading through what construction companies working on the project called "value engineering" changes to simplify the design and eliminate extra features such as an indoor running track and green roof.




At a July 7 meeting, members of the committee overseeing the construction budget expressed concern that the board was spending too much time pinching pennies and causing delays in the start of construction.




The biggest hurdle now is obtaining the final building permits from the city of Ashland to begin construction in earnest, contractors said.




"My concerns have been met," said Alan DeBoer, an advisory committee member who had expressed concern over issues such as trimming the size of the gym.




Adroit Construction, general contractor for the project, confirmed that the court and playing space in the gym would not be affected by the overall space reductions.




The committee continues to debate how to resolve the issue of the black box theater. The price guaranteed by Adroit includes a $124,000 contingency for either a scene shop or a black box theater, an expenditure that can be decided further into construction.




"That's not a whole heck of a lot of money," said advisory committee member Rick Barth. "$124,000 is very little to do anything."




When the board asked voters to approve the construction bond, it proposed a new scene shop at the high school. Throughout the design process, however, the board has been hoping to put the scene shop in the existing black box theater and construct a new black box theater, which will only be possible if money is left over.




Although not all issues have been resolved, board members expressed relief at reaching the end of what several called a "painful process."




"I don't like 'value engineering' either," said Superintendent Juli Di Chiro. "I think we came up with the best possible solution."




Farm-to-school program




The board passed a motion to continue working on a farm-to-school program and encourage the Oregon Department of Agriculture to fund a part-time position to resolve insurance and liability issues and assist in the creation of a pilot program.




To initiate a program, the district would require small farmers to have insurance and certifications to ensure students are provided with safe food. The most common certification &

"good agricultural practices," or GAP &

has several requirements, however, that conflict with standards for organic farm practices, such as allowing animals near the crops.




One solution may be to work with the state to develop new certification requirements to work with schools, because any district hoping to take advantage of local produce would face similar issues, board members said.




Board members said they would prefer to ask the state to provide seed money for a pilot program or work directly with farmers rather than the local district assume too much responsibility.




Costs of a potential breakout of food-borne illness would be difficult to estimate unless something went horribly wrong, said Pam Lucas, the district's business manager.




Board member Keith Massie said he was wary of that risk.




"I don't really want to risk a half-million dollar budget cut because half-a-dozen kids get sick," he said.




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