A Kent School District official said contingency costs and the upgrade to build a sidewalk with extra features rather than a simple design are the reasons for the higher costs of the River Ridge Elementary School sidewalk project.
Dave Bussard, the district’s executive director of Operations and Facilities, explained the costs during an interview with the Kent Reporter and later revised the details in an email.
Bussard initially said the district’s cost estimate in May 2022 of $750,000 to $950,000 would have paid for an off-street asphalt path, a project later dropped because it cut through a dog park in the city of SeaTac. River Ridge, 22420 Military Road S., which opened in 2021, is in the city of SeaTac but is a Kent School District school.
But after reviewing his notes and a May 25, 2022 district document that indicated the $750,000 to $950,000 was for a sidewalk with the city of SeaTac kicking in an additional $500,000 for an estimated total of $1.2 million to $1.45 million, Bussard said that was the preliminary sidewalk cost.
“It confirms our $750-$975K was for a simple design of sidewalk along the east side of road not inclusive of all the storm water infrastructure, lighting, and heavy road work that came to light during the entire design process over the last 10 months with the city,” Bussard said in a May 24 email. “That would explain the difference, as well as the escalation of all pricing and estimates from 2022 to current day. …the original concept and the final design were very different.”
The Kent School Board approved on May 10, 2023, a $3.5 million budget for the sidewalk project on the east side of Military Road South.
Bussard said the earlier cost estimate was before the district hired a designer for the project or knew what the city requirements would be, such as putting in curbs and gutters.
The board’s approval of $3.5 million was above the contract bid of $2.3 million the board awarded to Puyallup-based Northwest Cascade Inc. to build the sidewalk. Bussard said the $2.3 million didn’t include a 10.1% sales tax or a 12%-plus contingency.
Bussard said district staff asks for more funds than the bid in case costs run higher so staff doesn’t have to return to the board to ask for more money.
“We go a bit more than what we need,” Bussard said. “Any contingency money left over goes back to a (districtwide) contingency fund as with all of our projects.”
Voters approved a district bond in 2016 that included building River Ridge Elementary. The school sits just east of Interstate 5. The $3.52 million cost for the sidewalk project will be funded by the 2016 bond contingency, according to district documents, an increase of the initial school construction budget.
River Ridge opened in fall 2021, but with the only sidewalk right in front of the school property. Children who walk to school must use a shoulder along Military Road South.
According to an interlocal agreement approved in May 2022 by the school board and the SeaTac City Council, the city agreed to pay $500,000 toward the sidewalk project.
Board director Leslie Hamada said community members had raised questions about it taking the district so long to build a sidewalk, so she asked Bussard to explain the delay.
Bussard replied that he had been in his district job for six years but previously he worked for private companies. He said there were a lot of public agencies to work with on the project.
“In the private world you’ve got to get things done,” Bussard said. “In the public world, it’s not the same.”
Bussard said permits for building River Ridge included working with the city of SeaTac, storm and sewer with the city of Kent, water with the Highline Water District and fire alarm permits with Puget Sound Fire.
“It’s the first time we had to work with seven agencies to build one building,” Bussard said.
Bussard said the district has built great relationships with the public agencies, including SeaTac city officials. He told the board the city saved the district “several hundred thousands of dollars” by not charging permit fees or requiring removal of light poles and telephone poles, which the city helped cover with its $500,000 contribution.
“They’re giving back to the school district and they’ll get a sidewalk built,” Bussard said. “It’s a win-win for all.”
Kyle Moore, spokesperson for the city of SeaTac, said in a reply to a Kent Reporter email that the city handled the permitting process internally.
Board director Meghin Margel asked Bussard about the city of SeaTac’s role in paying for the project.
“We did not pay for permits, but we will pay for the project,” Margel said. “It is normal for a school district to pay for sidewalks on public streets?”
“It is not,” Bussard said.
Moore, the city spokesperson, said that out of the $500,000 contributed by the city, nearly $300,000 was for right-of-way acquisition for the property needed to build the sidewalk. City staff successfully negotiated 16 property purchases.
“The city was able to accomplish this mission by working collaboratively with property owners avoiding the condemning of any property,” Moore said.
Moore said property acquisition can be complex and that’s one reason for the delay of the project.
City staff also worked with utilities to relocate overhead and underground utilities as needed to accommodate the improvements and design review, permitting and inspections.
Crews will install about 1,250 feet (one-quarter mile) of sidewalk from near South 225th Place to South 229th Place. Construction this summer along the east side of the road will include a bike lane, curb and gutter, a 6-foot wide sidewalk, a 6-foot wide landscape strip and pedestrian level lighting, according to district and city documents.
Moore said a complicated stormwater design and various design elements that needed significant attention also delayed the project.
“Fortunately, the city has extensive experience with these types of infrastructure projects,” Moore said. “Because of its knowledge, the city was able to work with the designer to accelerate the project schedule over what would have occurred without city participation.”
Moore said city staff has worked closely with district staff.
“The city worked with the school district to ensure no obstacles for delivering this project,” Moore said. “As it stands today, the city/school district collaboration has resulted in a complex project coming to fruition as quickly as possible to ensure the safety of our children as they walk to and from school.”
Bussard said initial work begins May 24 with construction starting after school is out for summer on June 23. The 2023-2024 school year begins Aug. 23, which will make for a tight construction timeline.
Bussard said the sidewalk, curbing and gutters will be installed prior to the start of school in the late summer. He said not all of the landscaping and lighting will be completed until September or October but those aren’t necessary for the sidewalk to open in the late summer.
No sidewalks initially
Moore said River Ridge Elementary School was intended to be a bus only school (no students were expected to walk); therefore, there was not a requirement as part of the school development/construction to build a safe walking route for children walking to school from the south.
“Once it was understood that students were walking to school, the city of SeaTac and Kent School District worked to develop the sidewalk project together to expedite construction,” Moore said.
District officials had hoped to construct a walking path between the school and the Grandview Apartments, 3900 Veterans Drive, where a number of elementary students live.
But that path would have gone through the Grandview Off-Leash Dog Park, 3507 S. 228th St.
“We wanted a pathway from the back of Grandview Apartments into the dog park,” Bussard said to the board in May 2022. “We could utilize a pathway cut through the dog park (on the paved on-leash area) and come up the back of the (school) property with kids not even touching Military Road. But the dog park board rejected the plan, and the SeaTac city manager upheld it.”
The dog park is owned by the city of SeaTac, but a local nonprofit group helps oversee it.