District President: Superintendent to Give Public Explanation on LSC
by Brandi Makuski
School Board President Dwight Stevens says even he was concerned about several decisions leading up to the company hired to design the district’s Life Skills Center (LSC).
Stevens, who called the City-Times office last weekend, said several firms, “many of them local”, were considered for the job of designing the 3,000 square foot duplex, which is slated to go up next door to SPASH. Despite a previous relationship between Tom Owens, the district business manager who came to Stevens Point after retiring from D.C. Everest, and Wausau- based design firm The Samuels Group, Stevens said he thought the process was legitimate.
“I can see how people would be concerned, especially with the manner in which it was presented,” Stevens said.
“It really wasn’t explained thoroughly, and there’s no doubt people were suspicious and came up with a lot of questions, but there was a legitimate interview process that led to a unanimous decision on this company.”
The Samuels Group, Stevens said, has only been hired for designing the structure. Requests for Proposal (RFP) bids will be accepted for the construction phase of the project, which he said will involve student participation.
A district- led interview team submitted a list of 27 questions to various firms in advance of in-person interviews with the companies. According to school district documents, “over ten hours of interviews” were held to determine which firm would best suit the project.
It’s not clear how the group of companies considered were initially chosen. According to district documents, instead of accepting bids during an RFP process, companies “identified as appropriate” for the design phase were “invited” to interview in October of 2012.
The district’s interview team consisted of Superintendent Attila Weninger, Director of Student Services Greg Nyen, Buildings & Grounds Manager Don Keck, Special Ed. teacher Sue Felder, Joni Johnson- a staff member at SPASH and parent of a special needs students, and a SPASH construction trades student, Travis Sobczak.
According the tax records, the Stevens Point School District already owns residential properties in the community, including one located on ten acres of land in Plover, and another located next to SPASH on Second Street North.
Stevens said the board hadn’t discussed using those properties prior to the decision, but he has since discussed the matter with Superintendent Attila Weninger.
“I asked him that last week, and he said there was so much renovation needed (at the Second St. N property) we’d practically have to start over with it, because we’d probably have to raze it,” Stevens said, adding the Plover property was too far from SPASH to be considered a viable option for students.
Stevens said the Second Street North property is also currently rented out, and while it is livable, doesn’t meet codes required for the Life Skills Center program.
“I told Attila, you better get on the ball at the January meeting and explain yourself because it wasn’t very clear to anybody. The whole project, and how we came to this point, and how we picked this firm from Wausau,” Stevens said.
The LSC program began in 2000 and is designed to assist learning disabled students in learning homemaking and budgeting skills. Currently the program rents an apartment close to SPASH, but the new center would be a duplex with handicapped access and commercial kitchen space.
Some of the other firms invited to interview for the project include: Tom Brown Architects from Stevens Point, GC Corporation, Somerville with Ellis Stone Construction, Grunwaldt & Associates with Altman Construction Company, Inc.