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Toxic soil delays Bear River expansion

South county residents upset with the pace of construction at Bear River High School might want to place the blame on a large mound of dirt piled behind the school’s tennis courts.

Before any shovel can be pushed into the ground to complete a proposed $5.5 million expansion that includes a 400-seat performing arts theater and a swimming complex, Nevada Joint Union High School District officials must figure out what to do with the dirt pile, excavated from the area that was used as a trapshooting range over a half-century ago.

The dirt excavated from the area could contain dangerous levels of lead, though the high school district has spent $100,000 to date in reaching a conclusion that the property poses no threat to students or those who would work or use the expansion site.



Since the dirt was removed in October 2003, the district has waited for a similar response from an obscure state agency responsible for determining whether the land is safe to build on.

The delays, in addition to rising construction costs – the low bid for the Bear River project came in more than $800,000 over budget – have the district unwilling to move forward until the state gives a go-ahead.




Wednesday, the district directed its staff to wait at least 30 more days while the state prepares a response before awarding a bid on the Bear River project. Some board members said the new delay could lead to even higher construction costs.

Ron Baker, a spokesman for the state Department of Toxic Substances Control, said Thursday his agency is preparing to draft a response that could allow construction on the 10-acre site to begin.

Baker did not give a timetable for the agency’s response.

The uncertainty has the district in a quandary. In previous discussions, Julie Hopkins, the district’s assistant superintendent for business services, said the district could use as much as $1 million in developer fees to compensate for unexpectedly high costs in the bid made by Aberdeen Burris Construction. Developer fees are paid to the school district by home builders in anticipation of more students.

“Even with using all of our developer fees, this could create a short-term cash flow problem,” Hopkins said.

The board Wednesday briefly discussed the possibility of a short-term loan to make up the difference.

The district has to prepare for the possibility it may need to spend more money to clean, store or discard the dirt.

The soil could be ground into a parking lot next to the proposed improvements, Hopkins said.

Members of the audience who live in the Bear River attendance area voiced concern that all this extra money would reduce the scope of the project, something Superintendent Maggie Deetz and Hopkins said is unlikely.

The proposed improvements are part of Measure A, a $15 million bond passed by voters in 2002. Improvements at Bear River, in addition to the pool and auditorium, include a “green room” at the performing arts center, and showers and a changing area for the pool.

“When we sold the bond, that’s what we said we were going to provide for,” Hopkins said. “It’s already a bare-bones project.”

Tom Burris, project director for Lincoln-based Aberdeen Burris, the low bidder on the Bear River project, said he’s confident construction prices will hold firm at least until October, when the window of time on the construction bid expires.

“We hold our subcontractors pretty much to the line on projects,” he said. “These kinds of delays don’t surprise us.”

___

The project at a glance

Highlights of the $5.5 million proposed expansion at Bear River High School:

– 400-seat performing arts center.

– 25-yard pool.

– “Green room” adjacent to performing arts center for dressing changes.

– Shower and changing facilities at the pool area.


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