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PTO, principal upset about progress at Woodrow Wilson

By Bryan Richardson

The students are smiling and the teachers are doing their jobs as usual, but Woodrow Wilson Elementary faculty and families have been fighting a battle all year long to get the school’s renovation project complete.

As the summer approaches with more work ahead, members of the school’s Parent Teacher Organization have begun to worry about whether Woodrow Wilson faces another summer of construction issues.

After last summer’s construction struggles, the school started the school year two days late and its sixth grade students went to Northview Elementary School until early October.

This summer, First Management, Inc., of Lawrence, the general contractor of the project, is completing a concrete delivery pathway that was supposed to be finished now. The district will bid jobs to other contractors to remove the current ceiling and coat it with dryfall, have minor changes to the sprinkler system in the gym and redo the upstairs restrooms.

FMI has faced the ire of the USD 383 school board since late June when construction officials announced the project was three weeks to a month behind schedule.

The battle between Woodrow Wilson officials and FMI began long before that.

“They haven’t met a single deadline for this project since day one,” Wilson Principal Eric Koppes said on Friday.

Koppes and the school’s PTO have been on constant alert about the issues and bringing them up whenever possible. Koppes has been addressing construction officials about problems; the PTO has used school board meetings and emails or personal visits with individual board members.

PTO President Stephanie Grynkiewicz said the recent months of slowed progress have caused the PTO to get back into “watchdog mode.”

“We thought we were at point where we didn’t have to be as diligent,” she said during a walkthrough at the school.

The still visible drywall in the kindergarten hallway serves as an example of stagnant work for parents. It is supposed to look similar to Ogden’s renovated wall with colorful tile panels.

A minor detail such as installing doorstops remains incomplete in the kindergarten wing. With the door swinging open unstopped, some of the stone wall is chipping as well as scratches to the new doors and handles.

“We’ve been for six months trying to get a doorstop,” Koppes said.

In Brooke Snyder’s fourth-grade classroom, the closet door has been cut uneven, making it difficult to open because the bottom of the door rubs against the carpet. The wood on the top portion of the door has been peeling.

Snyder said about eight to 10 guys have come during the course of the year to take notes, but nobody has done anything to fix it.

The heat and cooling units in the school aren’t working properly; one blows cold in the room while another might blow hot. Koppes said two of them consistently blow hot. In order to fix the unit, the ceiling tile has to be removed to reach the reset switch for the system.

“This is during class when kids are trying to learn,” Grynkiewicz said.

Grynkiewicz especially takes issue with the restrooms being re-bid out to another company for this coming summer after FMI’s job the previous summer.

“If we did it once and paid for it, why are we bidding it out to another company?” she asked.

The answer to that question is the cracking along the epoxy resin floor. The wood floor under it has to be removed to fix the surface.

This is particular upsetting for Grynkiewicz and parents because of statements about Woodrow Wilson being complete. According to a March 28 progress report, FMI says it is 95 percent complete with the punch-lists for all phases of the project.

“It’s nowhere near there,” Grynkiewicz said about the progress report. “It’s very frustrating for us to hear everyone think it’s done when it’s clearly not.”

Grynkiewicz said it shouldn’t be up to Koppes and the PTO to get things done by making some noise.

“We’re trying to figure who will make sure the contractors are held accountable for their deadlines,” she said.

The supervising job is done Universal Construction, the district’s program management firm for the bond issue. Other than Manhattan High School — West Campus, the other projects fall under Universal’s guidance.

Mike Mize, of Universal Construction, became the Woodrow Wilson’s field manager in September as a way to help get the project back on track. FMI paid Mize’s salary.

Koppes said Mize was “a godsend” when he came onto the project. “He really did get the project back on track,” he said. “As the building was turned over, the follow-up work has slowed greatly since Mize’s departure.”

Program manager Trisha Brooke-Fruendt, of Universal Construction, assured parents and the school board during Wednesday’s school board meeting that those things are under control. She said the main work for the project has been completed, and workers have been working on emergency and punch-list items.

“They were there the entire spring break working on it,” she said.

This contradicts a statement by Koppes, who was there during spring break as well as every weekday and on weekends. In general, he said he sees about one guy checking in every week or two for an hour.

“When people perceive there’s a lack of progress, they push,” he said. “Things have seemed to be stagnant over the past few months.”

Brooke-Fruendt alluded to the $10,000 deducted from FMI’s contract because of the delays, contingency funds and going to FMI’s bonding agent as some ways to ensure the project will get done properly, even if FMI doesn’t do it.

“We have the avenues to take care of things,” she said.

Grynkiewicz mentioned that this issue is something the incoming principal would have to deal since Koppes is leaving in June to take the principal job at Rock Creek Junior/Senior High.

As a parent of a Woodrow Wilson student in the fall, Koppes said he’ll help the new principal any way he can. Koppes also will utilize the time to show the principal around the school and provide notes before the switch.

“The hope is they are finished and completed, so they can start new and not worry about it,” he said about the future principal and staff.

Grynkiewicz said the school isn’t looking for anything more than what it’s supposed to get.

“We’re not looking for electric blinds,” she said. “We just want the building to be finished in a quality manner.”

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