Phil Faccenda recently invited me to respond to a recent blog post on E-City Beat and subsequent comments regarding the selection of an architectural firm for the design of the Great Falls High School addition and renovation and a claim that because of that decision $37 million in taxpayer money left Great Falls. I am happy to provide facts related not only to the Great Falls High School addition and renovation project but on other projects funded by the $98.8 million bond levy and the “promise made” to try to keep construction dollars at the local level as much as possible.
It is important to briefly discuss the bond issue. Following several years of multiple public meetings regarding school facilities, the Board of Trustees voted unanimously to ask the community to support a $98.8 million bond issue. On October 4, 2016, 65% of registered voters turned out for the bond levy. According to the Cascade Elections Office the percentage of voter turnout was the highest in the history of the Great Falls Public Schools. It is interesting to note the percent of voter turnout for the November 7 general election was just slightly higher at 67%. I mention this as some people prior to the October bond vote voiced concerns the district (school board) was attempting to slip the bond issue by the electorate as those individuals assumed far fewer voters would vote if the bond election was held in October. Obviously that turned out not to be the case. The elementary bond levy passed with 61% and the high school bond levy passing with 57% voting in favor. The district was able to sell $64 million of bonds at a significantly lower interest rate than was estimated prior to the October vote. (The District estimated a 4.25% interest rate.) The final interest rate was 3.17% for the high school and 3.18% for the elementary bond. This means Great Falls tax payers will pay $7.7 million less in taxes over the next 20 years as the bonds are paid off. About 100 local residents purchased some of the bonds. $34 million in bonds remain to be sold.
A month ago a blog (Why Is Great Falls Tax Money Leaving Great Falls?) questioned the Board’s decision to hire NE45 Architects (headquartered in Bozeman) for the Great Falls High addition and renovation project. The blogger also objected to NE45 partnering with a Seattle based firm, Bassetti Architects. Following that blog several individuals commented that $37 million had left Great Falls. The question to be answered is did $37 million actually leave Great Falls and go to Bozeman and Seattle? Unless a person believes that NE45 and Bassetti Architects received all $37 million budgeted to do the entire GFHS addition and renovation project (including construction) the answer is no. All $37 million did not leave Great Falls. It is true that a small portion of the project budget will go to Bassetti Architects. In relationship to NE45 Architects, it should be noted they expanded their business by recently opening an office in Great Falls. This is a welcomed addition to the local business community. Local firms, TD & H Engineering and GPD Engineering, have been engaged by NE45 to work on the project and, as a result, those dollars will also remain in Great Falls. Since selection of the general contractor for the GFHS addition and renovation project will not occur until sometime in mid-February, it is impossible to know who the general contractor will be much less where they may be headquartered. The Board of Trustees are required by state statute to award the bid to the lowest most responsible bidder without regard where the bidder is headquartered.
It is often necessary for architects to go outside their home base of operations to remain competitive and stay in business. A prime example is CTA Architects. CTA is headquartered in Billings but maintain offices in Great Falls, Missoula, Bozeman, Kalispell, Helena, and Livingston with offices also in Seattle (Washington), Austin (Texas), Jackson (Wyoming), Minneapolis (Minnesota), New Orleans (Louisiana), Boise (Idaho), Denver (Colorado), Vancouver (British Columbia) and Regina (Saskatchewan). CTA was recently selected to design the new second Bozeman high school and have designed many schools in Montana and elsewhere during the 80 plus years they have been in business. CTA designed the various projects currently under construction at CMR High School.
L’Heureux Page Werner Architecture (LPW) is headquartered in Great Falls and recently celebrated 64 years in business. LPW has designed many schools throughout Montana with recent school projects in Missoula and Kalispell in addition to the new Giant Springs Elementary School here in Great Falls.
Dale Nelson Architects, headquartered in Great Falls, is licensed in Washington, Idaho, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Wisconsin and Oklahoma. Dale Nelson Architects recently designed a beautiful renovation of Miller Hall on the campus of Montana State University-Bozeman. Dale Nelson Architects designed the new GFPS Building and Grounds Building on the Little Russell School campus.
I believe local architects would also agree that collaboration between architectural firms is not an unusual business practice. For example, during the selection process for the GFHS addition and renovation project, one local architect proposed partnering with an architectural firm located in Albuquerque, NM; another local firm proposed using a person with expertise working on historical buildings who would be on loan from an architectural firm in Missoula; and, NE45 proposed partnering with Bassetti Architects located in Seattle.
Please review the following information regarding bond expenditures:
LPW Architects (Great Falls) Roosevelt School replacement (Giant Springs Elementary School)
Dale Nelson Architects (Great Falls) Little Russell School (Buildings and Grounds Department)
CTA Architects (Great Falls) CMR High School multipurpose building, STEM addition
NE45 & Bassetti Architects (Great Falls & Seattle) GFHS remodel and major addition
Sletten Construction (Great Falls) Roosevelt School replacement (Giant Springs Elementary School)
Detailed Construction (Stockett) Whittier Elementary elevator
James Talcott Construction (Great Falls) CMR High School multipurpose building, STEM addition
Liberty Electric (Great Falls) CMR fire alarm system upgrade
Summit Roofing (Missoula) North Middle School reroof
Central Plumbing & Heating (Great Falls) Sunnyside Elementary boiler replacement
Liberty Electric (Great Falls) East Middle School fire alarm system upgrade
Detailed Construction (Stockett) Mountain View Elementary remodel
Montana School Equipment (Great Falls) CMR bleachers
David Kuglin Construction (Great Falls) CMR sidewalk replacement
Great Falls Sand and Gravel (Great Falls) Meadow Lark Elementary parking lot
Great Falls Sand and Gravel (Great Falls) Loy Elementary parking lot
FieldTurf (Georgia) Memorial Stadium football field and track upgrade
Enterprise Electric (Great Falls) Sunnyside Elementary Electrical upgrade
Central Plumbing & Heating (Great Falls) North Middle School Boiler
TJs Construction (Great Falls) West Elementary outside staircase
Geranios Enterprises (Great Falls) Morningside Elementary water service
Sletten Construction (Great Falls) Little Russell School (Building and Grounds Department)
Central Technology (Great Falls) North Middle School fire alarm system upgrade
Tri-County Mechanical & Engineering (Great Falls) Great Falls High School boiler replacement
T C Glass (Great Falls) East Middle School window replacement
United Electric (Great Falls) Loy Elementary electrical upgrade
Detailed Construction (Stockett) Paris Gibson Education Center elevator/window replacement
Metal Works of Montana (Missoula) Paris Gibson Education Center roof project
OTHER SUPPLIERS/CONTRACTERS FOR BOND ISSUE PROJECTS
Sherwin Williams (Great Falls)
Hulteng CCM, Inc. (Billings)
Ace Hardware (Great Falls)
Energy West Resources (Great Falls)
Scott Fitzpatrick Asbestos (Helena)
JETech, LLC (Great Falls)
Kelly’s Signs (Great Falls)
AAAA Water Well Drilling (Clancy)
Morrison-Maierle (Great Falls)
William Ribich Drywall (Great Falls)
Water Net, Inc. (Cascade)
Boettcher Paint Co. (Great Falls)
Combustion Service Company (Great Falls)
Sherwin Williams (Great Falls)
Crescent Electrical Supply (Great Falls)
Gerbers of Montana (Great Falls)
Scott Fitzpatrick Asbestos (Helena)
Glacier State Electric (Great Falls)
MDS Supply Inc. (Great Falls)
Pierce Leasing (Great Falls)
Northwest Equipment MFG (Kalispell)
Platt Electric Supply (Great Falls)
Tractor & Equipment Co. (Great Falls)
Ferguson Enterprises (Great Falls)
United Electric (Great Falls)
Charter Business Planning (Billings)
Pioneer Sand & Gravel (Great Falls)
Johnson Madison Lumber Co. (Great Falls)
The school board has a responsibility to make sure the lowest most responsible bid is awarded. As the reader can see from the list above, in most cases the lowest most responsible bidder is located in Great Falls or the surrounding area. There are a few instances when the District either did not receive a local bid or a company outside Great Falls was the lowest most responsible bidder. Taxpayers expect wise use of their hard earned tax dollars and the Great Falls Public Schools continue to fulfill that responsibility. Promises made…………promises kept.