South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

Mehlville school board approves revised proposal for auditorium

Work could start in summer on new Mehlville auditorium

A nearly $6 million stand-alone auditorium may soon be on the Mehlville Senior High School campus.

The Mehlville Board of Education voted unanimously last week to approve Superintendent Eric Knost’s revised proposal for a 22,700-square-foot, 525-seat auditorium at no additional cost to taxpayers.

The preliminary budget was prepared by the C. Rallo Construction Co., based on its recent work on Ritenour High School’s auditorium.

The cost for building construction is estimated at $4,227,900, with professional fees and miscellaneous costs comprising the remaining $1,589,290.

The proposed budget is $6 million, and the project is estimated at at $5,817,190. The remaining $182,810 will go toward renovations to the Witzel Learning Center, according to Knost.

Knost’s original plan called for the auditorium to be within a renovated portion of the Witzel Learning Center. But as plans progressed, he said it was becoming more a demolition project than renovation project, which compromised the integrity of his initial plan.

“I liked the way the end product was looking. I didn’t like what was having to happen to get to that end product,” Knost said, “and I think that it was a little contradictory.”

As proposed, the auditorium would be funded by utilizing savings realized through the refunding of certificates of participation, or COPs, issued for the district’s Proposition P districtwide building improvement program. Prop P was approved by voters in November 2000. No additional funds would be required from the community at this time, according to Knost.

COPs issued in 2001 by the district were refunded in 2010 with a savings of roughly $2.2 million over 10 years and COPs issued in 2002 were refunded last year with a long-term savings of about $1.1 million.

A third refunding with a projected savings of about $2.6 million is anticipated sometime this year, according to Chief Financial Officer Noel Knobloch.

The school district is anticipating a total savings of nearly $6 million from the three refundings.

Knobloch said the latest the district can refund the COPs is August and they are callable in September.

“We could do it any time between now and then and costs about $10,000 to $15,000 dollars a month of interest for every month you do it early,” Knobloch said.

Constructing the stand-alone auditorium will allow the district to take advantage of low interest rates by issuing additional COPs to fund facility needs and historically low construction costs, according to the superintendent.

Board member Mark Stoner voiced concern about the potential for going over-budget with the project.

“Is there … a control point for architecture and design to say if the bids aren’t coming in where we expected them to be, are we controlling the cost? Have we put any thought into that?” Stoner asked.

Knost said he is shooting for $5.8 million, but if additional costs would result, the board would have to approve those costs.

“That’s the layer I’m putting in there, and (I’ll) also have the facilities committee with community folks involved that will help us make recommendations along the way … That’s not my style to walk into something saying that, ‘Well, let’s see what happens,'” Knost said. “I like to put my foot down from the get-go …”

The district’s architect, Dickinson Hussman Architects, or DHA, will work on the project. No timetable has been set for construction to begin.

“I think it’s feasible it could be in a break-ground summer project and it could be wrapped up, if not by the start of the year, in fall,” Knost said.

Students would not be affected if construction continued into the school year.

Board Secretary Elaine Powers said she is “a little worried about the relationship with the existing architects.”

“It just makes me a little bit nervous to just keep handing work (to DHA). I have mixed feelings on this,” she said.

Board member Ron Fedorchak said he was concerned about Oakville Senior High School being bypassed because the revised plan does not include the Witzel Learning Center.

“Now that you’ve got a stand-alone facility, I’ve got to think that as an Oakville High parent, that I would appreciate that plan maybe being presented to build a stand-alone facility at Oakville,” Fedorchak said.

The Mehlville High campus provided more flexibility for an auditorium compared to the Oakville High campus.

“The problem is Oakville is so landlocked,” Knost said. “Now, we’ll have to figure that out if we are to end up doing it there (in the future), but for this initial project, it’s better stewardship when we know it’s more feasible.”

Knost said he would like to see an equal space at Oakville Senior High School in the future.

“I’m not going to stop advocating for this as a needed community and curricular space at both of our high schools,” Knost said, “but this is an opportunity without knocking on the doors of our taxpayers to move in that direction and get a significant, respectable project done.”

In December when he presented his original concept for an auditorium, Knost also proposed that at some point in the future, the board may want to consider asking voters to approve “a very small bond issue” to fund an identical auditorium for the Oakville High campus.

Though it will be located on the Mehlville campus, the auditorium would be a shared districtwide facility.

One possible addition to the auditorium Knost mentioned was connecting it to the Witzel Learning Center, though that is not part of the concept he presented.

Knost said looking at the aerial view of the concept, he noticed the proximity between the auditorium and Witzel Learning Center.

“As we continue in the future, the most I would see maybe in my time doing would be that we run some kind of awning so it’d be connected in that regard,” Knost said, “but you just look at that aerial concept and you think, that could just be a continuation of the building and could become a bona fide part of Mehlville High School.”

Construction of a district auditorium is long overdue, according to Knost.

“The issue is we’ve always held it over the heads of our taxpayers,” he said. “I’m laying a plan out for you right now where we don’t have to do that, and we can get it done and the community can enjoy it. Our students and our teachers can enjoy it, and we can be extremely proud of it.”

More to Discover