Coronado students can ‘go to school’ on auditorium project

       As students begin registration next week at Coronado High School, it wouldn't seem unreasonable for them to ask if a special class is being offered this year: Auditorium Construction 101.
       They will certainly have no trouble following the progress of a major project that will be occurring almost in the middle of their campus. Work on the school's new auditorium, which was delayed about two months this summer because of cost issues, was just getting started this week and is expected to continue until the end of February.
       Now priced at $4.4 million, the new edifice will be noticeably taller and wider in places than the current building, which will be partially demolished to make room for it.
       Crews have erected a fence around the work area. The campus walkways on three sides of the auditorium are usable, but the fenced-off area will include its east side as well as the school bus/visitor parking lane, where a construction trailer has been placed and a crane will be set up. As a result, for the first several months of the school year, buses will pick up and drop off students elsewhere in the parking lot, probably near the activity fields, according to Terry Johns, the project manager for District 11.
       The situation “isn't ideal,” he said in an interview last week, but stressed that every effort will be made to ensure student safety.
       The auditorium project has proved to be a tough one all along for the district. The original estimate, as stated in the voter-approved bond issue of 2005, was $1.4 million. The district has been close on most of its bond-issue estimates - even though, because of the great quantity of projects, no detailed design work typically had been done beforehand - but Coronado was an exception. Between unique and unanticipated needs, extra enhancements requested by the school and major inflation in material costs, the projected amount has kept increasing, Johns and District 11 Facilities Manager Mike Maloney explained. As recently as June, $3.9 million was the anticipated expense. But that was before subcontractors submitted their bids to contractor Gerald Phipps Construction, Johns said.
       The final amount will not cost taxpayers more money nor subtract from other educational needs, but it will require the district to dip deeply into its bond-issue contingency fund (pending school board approval Aug. 15). And, just to get the price to $4.4 million, about $500,000 worth of cuts in project niceties had to be made - principally in the exterior appearance, sound system, types of seats and interior lighting, Johns and District 11 Facilities Manager Mike Maloney explained.
       Nevertheless, they believe the auditorium will be a quality project that will serve the school well. “We didn't have to cut too badly,” Johns said. Still in the project are the most desired improvements - doubled seating, larger balcony, better access, better sound, an orchestra pit, a “green room” for backstage work and a remodeled dressing room.
       The old auditorium, considered small by current high school standards, dates back to the school's original construction in 1971.
       Project savings will come from an exterior that will partially make use of a bronze-colored metal instead of brick. The sound system, once planned to be a notch above that at most modern high schools, will now be similar. The new seating will be as durable as planned, but the seat backs won't be as high and the fabric not quite as fancy as hoped for. There will be six ceiling lights instead of a dozen, though the cumulative brightness will be the same.
       “It's been this way through the whole project,” Johns said. “Inflation is just killing us.”
       The school had a stroke of good luck with its art and science renovations this summer. Both had been bid out earlier in the year, before the latest round of inflation, and both are on budget and will be ready for students at the start of school Aug. 16, Maloney and Johns said.

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