Mehlville board approves Wright Construction for auditorium

Wright, Knost comfortable with construction time frame

By Kari Williams

The Mehlville Board of Education approved Wright Construction’s base bid of more than $5.1 million to construct an auditorium on the Mehlville Senior High campus, but delayed approval of alternates, such as a connecting corridor and upgrades to sound equipment.

Wright Construction Co. was approved in a 6-1 vote last week with board member Kathleen Eardley abstaining.

“It was never a project I thought that should move forward,” Eardley told the Call, “but I don’t want to give the contractor a vote of no confidence either because I believe they’re going to do a great job.”

Bids from all 16 contractors included three alternates — a connecting corridor, various upgrades to sound equipment and gypsum board in the auditorium — but Superintendent Eric Knost recommended the board wait before approving any alternates and approve only the base bid.

Wright Construction’s bids for the alternates are:

• Connecting corridor, $99,000.

• Loudspeakers, $12,800.

• Audio mixing counsel, $11,500.

• Wireless microphone, $11,300.

• Backstage TV & distribution, $30,600.

• Gypsum board in auditorium, $43,500.

Board member Ron Fedorchak said he believes it is important that some Facilities Committee members advocated approval of the gypsum board and connecting corridor.

However, Knost said he does not believe that is “a prudent thing to do.”

“Not that I don’t want that connecting corridor, I absolutely do,” Knost said. “The alternate for the drywall and gypsum board, that was my asking, that piece. I absolutely want those pieces, but I want to show stewardship to this community, and I think we will add those pieces.”

Tom Wright, of Wright Construction Co., said his company also is interested in the connecting corridor being part of the project. But he said the prudent, fiscal approach “when budgets are as tight as they are” is to make sure those decisions are not made until they absolutely need to be.

Knost told the Call the district will base when the alternates should come back to the board on the “guidance of Wright Construction.”

“We’ll follow their lead,” Knost said, “and obviously our interest is just to make sure we keep a contingency alive, per our Facilities Committee.”

Knost also said he believes there is a “good chance” all of the alternates will be included in the project.”

“I agree with what Ron said about the Facilities Committee that the connecting corridor and the gypsum board and drywall, those are the key pieces too,” he said, “and I truly believe we’re going to do it, but we want to be appropriate in our decision about those.”

The “prudent” thing to do, according to Knost, was to approve the base bid and as the need for contingency shrinks and there is a comfort level for “being able to do these other pieces, we add them accordingly.”

Fedorchak made a motion to approve the two alternates as well, which did not receive a second.

Of the 16 bids received, Knost said he asked the four lowest bidders — Wright Construction, $5,134,000; Orf Construction, $5,175,000; Trico Construction, $5,175,000; and Lamb Construction, $5,165,800 — to look for errors and omissions in the construction documents before being selected.

“I have observed way too many examples in projects in my time in education where there’s a contract that’s granted and suddenly there are lots of errors and omissions in the construction documents that are recognized and then there’s change orders and suddenly the costs start going up …,” Knost said.

Through the interview process, Knost told the board Wright Construction “came out ahead of everyone with flying colors in making me feel comfortable about my interest and my commitment to this.”

The superintendent said with other contractors, he heard them wanting to make a commitment, but they did not actually make a commitment.

“There was a lot of ‘what if’ kind of language,” Knost said. “I never heard that with Tom (Wright).”

Dwight Dickinson, of Dickinson Hussman Architects, the architects for the project, told the board if he had the ability to select the contractor, he would select Wright Construction.

“We got lucky,” Dickinson said. “That’s how I see it. It’s a great fit.”

Board President Venki Palamand told the Call the auditorium will greatly benefit thousands of students, their families and community members who are involved in the performing arts and decrease the district’s need to rent auditorium facilities from neighboring school districts.

“The fact that we were able to get this done without asking taxpayers for more money is a real tribute to the work of Dr. Knost and [Chief Financial Officer] Noel Knobloch,” Palamand said.

Construction is slated to begin Nov. 1. Both Knost and Wright said they feel comfortable the project can be completed within the anticipated one-year time frame.