School makeover projects still on track

Construction contractors are making steady progress despite the COVID-19 pandemic at McNary High School (KEIZERTIMES/ERIC A. HOWALD).

The spread of COVID-19 has brought much of the planet to a halt. The Salem-Keizer Public Schools bond projects, however, will continue to move forward. 

Salem-Keizer voters passed the $619.7 million bond project — which has recently increased to $677.7 million thanks to market premiums, earnings on bond proceeds, grants and reimbursements — in May of 2018, and construction at Salem-Keizer schools hasn’t missed a beat in spite of the coronavirus according to SKPS chief operations officer Michael Wolfe.

“Everything is going along very smoothly, quite frankly. We really haven’t had any major COVID-19 hiccups at all,” said Wolfe. “I’m knocking on wood all around me to keep that good energy flowing.”

Although additional seismic upgrades weren’t scheduled to take place until the summer at some schools, now that in-person class is no longer in session, Wolfe acknowledged projects at McNary, South Salem and McKay, now had the ability to slightly move up the timetable. 

“We have been able to accelerate some of the work because of the fact that we don’t have any staff or kids there, but we also had to remind ourselves that this came to a hard stop. Kids were there one week and then they weren’t there the next and all of this stuff was left. It wasn’t like there was a week of packing before the shutdown. We’ve been adjusting,” Wolfe said. “All the project teams are doing a phenomenal job of moving forward where it makes sense to do that.”

McNary, for instance, was scheduled to have the campus closed this summer and have the final phase of their construction done by August. Even though construction will be accelerated, there are no plans to move up the timeline. 

The reason for advancing construction without changing the timeline is so that the there will be some fluctuation in the schedule. SKPS will also only move forward on certain projects, not all, because of contractor availability. 

“We would never overpromise and under-deliver on any of those dates, so even accelerating that allows us to do deeper work than what we were able to do on the original schedule. It would be great if we could say in mid-August that we were ready to open up sooner, but we won’t be able to do that until we get much closer to the end date,” Wolfe said. “Moving forward, even by a week or two, gives us more flex in the schedule if something came up that we needed to address.”

Wolfe also noted that construction will be accelerated at Claggett Creek Middle School, which is why the school is no longer being used as a food distribution location.

Contractors are responsible for the safety of the actual site. But amid the coronavirus, the district is still making sure that safety protocols are being followed. 

“We have asked each contractor to share those protocols with us so we can take a hard look at them,” Wolfe said. “We have some pretty solid protocols in place for social distancing as a district.”