Mehlville officials eyeing new site for auditorium

For Franz, cap of $6 million for auditorium ‘set in stone’

By Kari Williams

A third location is being considered for the Mehlville School District’s $6 million auditorium project.

Superintendent Eric Knost told the board April 18 that he asked the district’s architect, Dickinson Hussman Architects, and subcontractors to “consider yet another location” — the south end of the Mehlville Senior High School campus. Construction projects have taken place in that area in recent years, according to Knost, so the district has more information about the site.

“We’re much more confident in there not being things like sewers and utilities underneath (the new proposed location) because it’s area that we’ve surveyed in recent years,” Knost said.

Knost told the Call surveys conducted within the last 10 years do not show any issues with “a big chunk” of the newly proposed site.

Any concerns that would arise would be from new surveying and soil testing, he said. Additional costs for considering another location are “probably less than $6,000,” according to Knost.

The auditorium project began in December with the idea to renovate part of the Witzel Learning Center. In January, the location changed to the north end of the Mehlville Senior High School campus, behind the Administration Building. DHA found utility lines and soft soil on the north end site that would have cost “in the hundreds of thousands” of dollars, according to Knost, who said he did not ask for an exact cost.

However, the superintendent said it is possible the project could have been completed at the north end, including re-routing utility and sewer lines, but he likes the idea of completing the project without “having to worry about those utility issues.”

Disruption to the back of the campus during the fall sports season, parking and access for delivery trucks caused concern at the north-end location, according to the superintendent.

Concern about third site

Board Vice President Elaine Powers asked if other locations on the Mehlville campus are being considered for the auditorium.

“I don’t want to keep coming back to this,” she said, “where we thought it was going to work at Witzel. Then we thought it was going to work behind the administration building, now we think it’s going to work at the south end, now we think — I’m wondering if the question should be a little broader to the architects and engineers right now.

“What is their recommendation on the best location to (build the auditorium?) …,” she asked.

Considering additional locations is what “due diligence is all about,” according to Knost. Aesthetics, curriculum and developing the property have to be taken into consideration when contemplating sites for the building.

“The idea has always been to put an auditorium on the Mehlville campus. We haven’t departed from that,” Knost said. “What I’m proud of is the fact that we are practicing due diligence. There are plenty of examples where we could’ve said, ‘You know what, I said Witzel, by golly, we’re staying at Witzel,’ and we do end up with cost overruns …”

Knost said he still expects to break ground in August with completion one year later, but those dates are preliminary.

“We never published a schedule and said this is what would happen. We always had ‘preliminary schedule’ on (the presented schedules),” he said.

Board President Venki Palamand said he believes Knost is making the right decision by doing the investigative work ahead of time and looking into various locations.

Staying within budget

Board member Ron Fedorchak said when he voted in favor of putting a $6 million cap on the project it was “not to box (Knost) in.”

“I would encourage you to bring those costs to us if they’re legitimate, and we have a concrete number we can evaluate if you need more money to do this thing right,” he said. “I don’t want to do a patchwork building and then have it fall apart in 10 years or constantly be needing a repair …”

Bringing costs of more than $6 million back to the board is what Knost said he intended to do all along.

“I’m going to bring that to you before I nix the project, there’s no doubt about it … I was asking to be challenged to keep this at $6 (million),” he said. “That’s my goal. That’s what I’m still adamant about.”

Board member Mark Stoner said the board told taxpayers the auditorium will be built for $6 million and he would “have a real hard time” going back to them if the cost increases.

“They’ve seen too much of that in the past,” Stoner said.

While Fedorchak said he does not disagree with Stoner, he believes if there are cost overruns, the project should come back to the board.

“I’d rather have it done right and last for 100 years than build it for $6 million and fall apart in 10 (years),” he said.

But for board member Rich Franz, the $6 million cap is “set in stone” and he said he will not approve an amount more than $6 million.

Knost plans to present new drawings to the board at its May 10 meeting.