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J.W. Walker expansion cost jumps

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Projected costs for the renovation/expansion of J.W. Walker School here have risen by $1 million and, like the Bare Naked Ladies tune, it had one trustee asking what the board could do if it “Had a Million Dollars.”

The Rainy River District School Board held its monthly meeting here last night and on the agenda was a resolution to approve the estimated cost of the J.W. Walker project at $4.6 million.

As reported in the Times last June, the original estimated cost for the project was $3.6 million.

The rise in cost had one trustee questioning the cost overrun and eventually voting against the resolution, which passed despite his protest.

“I hate to see it taking a million dollars out of our budget,” said trustee Martin Darrah. “Think what we could do with $1 million?

“The concern is can we afford it?” he added. “We haven’t received any more money. That extra million dollars is a lot of money.”

Education Director Warren Hoshizaki qualified the excess dollars by explaining that even the initial $3.6 million figure was the debentured loan cost and that the entire amount won’t be paid for years.

It will be paid off like a loan from reserves.

Hoshizaki explained the money comes from the province annually as a school renewal grant of $500,000. It is used for major construction and renovations for all the schools.

“It’s still gonna cost us,” countered Darrah. “We haven’t even started construction yet.

“One of the main reasons for closing Alberton School were the high costs,” added Darrah, questioning if that action was worth it now that the cost of the J.W. Walker expansion had risen.

“To begin with, if they thought about it, they could have chipped a little more in and saved Alberton School,” said Gary Durbin, who sits on the Alberton Parent Council and was on the committee to save the school.

“They’ve snowed everybody,” he charged. “It’s like their mind was made up with J.W. Walker before they got any consultation.

“They didn’t care about our input at all,” he argued. “We had the little country school here and could have kept that.

“That’s just the start of it,” Durbin said about the extra million dollars. “By the time they’re done, it will be like the [new] high school.”

Terry Ellwood, the board’s superintendent of education, said the jump in the projected cost was due to recommendations that came out of the design process.

“The building committee has put forward a design that has additional features,” he noted, adding some of those extra costs came from making the building a “green building” and by expanding and beautifying the new library.

“It’s best for the students,” said board vice-chair Dan Belluz. “Trustees felt it would be a good-looking school.”

Belluz added the new school is a consolidation of four schools and will save the board more than $130,000 a year.

He also said the excess costs came from the expansion of the library, the addition of a computer lab (rather than using classroom space for one), and the building of the new gymnasium.

“Over the course of time, building costs change,” Ellwood argued. “This is strictly the estimated cost. The architect gives the estimate of what the building is going to cost.”

He noted that now that the project has gone to tenders, it is unsure what the cost might be.

“We recognize due to a variety of circumstances that the estimated value of the building will be closer to $4.6 million than $3.6 million,” Ellwood concluded.

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