Contractors and land sales lining up for $620 million school construction blitz

North Salem High School is among the first schools slated for significant renovations starting in the summer of 2019. (Special to Salem Reporter/Moriah Ratner)

No dirt has moved yet, but behind the scenes, the Salem-Keizer School District is hiring staff, buying land and lining up its first contractors for the $620 million construction blitz approved by voters earlier this year.

The work will begin in 2019 with major renovations at McNary and North high schools adding classrooms, science labs and more space for special education programs. Demolition and construction will begin over the summer.

By 2023, nearly every school in the district will undergo renovation, some as modest as security system upgrades. Twenty-nine schools will see significant work such as expanded classroom space or new gyms.

Three small upgrades at Gubser Elementary and Waldo and Judson middle schools will also kick off next year. Design work for those is underway now, said Joel Smallwood, the district’s manager of construction and maintenance services. Work at Gubser is expected to begin in early 2019.

Smallwood is overseeing the day-to-day bond work for the district and is one of about 10 staff members helping manage the construction, spending much of their time on bond work. He came to Salem-Keizer two and a half years ago as the district updated its facilities plan.

Smallwood has spent 18 years as a school district facilities manager, most recently for Silver Falls. He’s never worked on a school district bond package before, but has overseen smaller construction projects.

Aiding Smallwood with the bond is Day CPM, a Beaverton firm retained in August to manage the school projects. Day was awarded a 90-day contract for $242,578 but is expected to remain at work through the construction process.

The company has worked on school construction in other Oregon school districts, and is currently overseeing a $292 million bond for the Tigard-Tualatin School District.

Smallwood said Day would coordinate the large number of simultaneous construction projects and ensure things run smoothly. District staff often work on smaller construction projects, he said, but don’t typically run dozens of major upgrades at once.

“Getting that amount of staff takes a team effort,” he said.

The district has also selected Salem-based LGC Pence Construction as a general contractor for McNary and North, but no contract amount has been set yet.

Three planned school expansions will require more land.

The proposed purchase of six acres of bare land from St. Edward Catholic Church adjacent to McNary has garnered significant public interest after the church said it didn’t want to sell all the property. The district is still negotiating but will use condemnation to get the property if a deal can’t be reached in the next month.

The district bought about two acres next to Hallman Elementary School from the Ronald E. Moser Trust for $950,000, said Karma Krause, the district’s community engagement specialist for the bond project.

The district also wants to buy county-owned land adjacent to Auburn Elementary School and intends to finish that deal soon, Smallwood said.

“It’s an exciting time for our community, for our schools, for our kids and the team that’s doing it,” he said.

Got a tip? Contact reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.