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Aloha High School seismic upgrades went from $1.7M to $19M over the course of five years

A handful of earthquake readiness projects in a 2014 Beaverton School District bond program will cost roughly seven times their initial budgeted amount.

PHOTO COURTESY BEAVERTON SCHOOL DISTRICT - A contractor does foundation work at Aloha High School as part of a seismic upgrade project. The project will see the school retrofitted to be earthquake ready.Citing market conditions and unforeseen project changes, staff say there is still enough money in district reserves to cover the cost of several retrofit projects, despite an $11.6 million budget spike for several of its planned seismic upgrades to schools.

District officials planned to spend $4.2 million on seismic upgrades and remodel work at three elementary school sites and two high schools as part of a capital bond project in 2014. Five years later, following significant changes to the scope of some projects and a dramatic surge in construction costs, the budget jumped to $15.8 million. Budget updates show the projects will likely cost closer to $30 million, though some of the projects will be paid for with state grant money not included in the bonds.

Aloha High School is one of a handful of schools in the district getting structural upgrades, including foundation reinforcements, that will improve the building's ability to withstand earthquakes.

A list of district-wide seismic assessments can be found here.

The work at Aloha High was initially budgeted at a little over $1.7 million. The Beaverton School District later applied for $2.5 million in state grants to help pay for the work, but the grants could only be obtained if the project met "Life Safety" standards for building occupancy, meaning the size and scope of the work would grow substantially.

"We pursued a grant from the state of Oregon, which we won," said Aaron Boyle, the school district's administrator for facilities development. "By getting that grant, there were a lot more strings attached. Now we have to upgrade the whole building to very specific standards."

PHOTO COURTESY BEAVERTON SCHOOL DISTRICT - Work to bring Aloha High School up to earthquake safety standards began over the summer and additional work at the school is planned for summer 2020.Now, Aloha High will get a full roof replacement, a new cooling tower and overflow drains, and several skylights in the building will be replaced to meet safety standards, in addition to the previously planned seismic work.

As of September, estimates indicate the Aloha High School construction project is now expected to cost $19.34 million — $6.85 million more than the project's approved budget of $12.5 million.

"It's a significant asset to the school and community, but it's far beyond what we budgeted for," Boyle said.

The main building at Aloha High is about 51 years old. The high school currently serves about 1,830 students, mostly in unincorporated Washington County.

About half the construction work at Aloha High was completed over the 2019 summer break. The remaining roofing work is expected to take place in summer 2020.

The district is working with the Howard S. Wright construction team on the project.

Despite the overages, a bond summary report shows the Beaverton School District should have $52.5 million in program reserve funds not allocated to projects, plus contingency funds.

While the upgrades are on track to meet target construction deadlines, the project remains a red-coded — or "trouble" — project on the school district's bond program scorecard.

The school district's Bond Accountability Committee recommended the school board approve transferring $6.85 million from the bond reserve program into the Aloha High seismic project budget. The school board is expected to take up the issue at its Oct. 28 meeting.

Aloha High was one of five schools identified by BSD for needing "high priority seismic upgrades" as public agencies and planners across Oregon get serious about earthquake safety planning. Other schools on the project list include Beaver Acres Elementary School, Cedar Mill Elementary School, Cooper Mountain Elementary School and Beaverton High School.

During a broad discussion of bond projects with board members back in August, deputy superintendent of operations Carl Mead acknowledged the ongoing problem of ballooning construction costs, coupled with declining or flat enrollment at some school sites.

"Quite honestly, we're going to have to engage in conversations (with the public) over the next few years," Mead said. "As we plan for the next bond, it does not make sense for us to continue with 54 individual sites."

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