BUCKTOWN - Owen J. Roberts School District officials believe they can open a new elementary school by September 2008 despite a delay in plan approvals.

At a committee-of-the-whole meeting last Monday, the school board heard a presentation from architects working on a plan to construct a new school in West Vincent.

Township officials recently granted final approval for the plans. District officials had originally hoped to have those approvals in hand in August.

The district can still complete the school and have it open on time. However, a rigid timetable must be adhered to, said James Clough, managing principal of KCBA Architects of Hatfield.

The district will bid out the job on Nov. 22, and award the winning bid on Jan. 10. Construction is expected to begin by the end of January, Clough said.

The schedule leaves the board with only 18 months from the time it awards a bid to complete the school and get it ready for opening day.

Clough says that's enough time.

"If we didn't think it could work, we wouldn't have proposed it," he said.

However, some board members appeared concerned.

"We're on a really tight schedule. Is your contingency plan sufficient to cover us if the schedule is not met?" board member William La Coff asked Michael Wright of Turner Construction Co., which is also working on the plan.

"No," Wright responded.

However, after the meeting, Business Administrator Jaclyn Horrocks said the district is working to develop a contingency plan for handling burgeoning enrollments, should the building not be completed on time.

"If we needed to put it off a year, we would definitely be over capacity in some of our buildings," Horrocks said. "We will develop a contingency plan because it is prudent to do so. There are many different alternatives. We need to look at all of our options,"

Those options could be as simple as reclaiming commons areas for classroom space, she said.

The district plans to build a fifth elementary school at routes 401 and 100 in order to make room for its growing student population. A number of townships within the district have experienced rapid development, with large housing subdivisions either recently built, planned or under construction.

Many district schools are already over capacity. To address that, a ninth-grade wing is being added to the high school, and the middle school will be renovated and converted to a seventh- and eighth-grade building. Sixth grade, which has traditionally been housed at the middle school, will be moved into the elementary schools.

If the new West Vincent school is not completed on time, district officials must find a way to fit even more students into schools already above capacity. What's more, the plan to renovate the middle school requires that the school be vacated for a year, with grades seven and eight moving temporarily into the new high school wing.

That plan is contingent upon the new school being in operation, so that sixth-graders can be moved into the elementary buildings.

KCBA Senior Project Manager Barbara Miller made several recommendations for keeping construction on schedule. She suggested the board add alternate material changes into the bid documents. That way, if bids all come in over budget, the board has options for cutting costs without necessarily re-bidding.

Clough recommended determining soil quality by conducting a radar study in addition to taking core soil samples throughout the site. That will enable the district to include soil removal and replacement in the bid documents, and lessen the likelihood of a holdup due to unanticipated soil issues.

The district will need to spend $9,900 for the radar study. That money is available in the contingency budget, Horrocks said.

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