The Chippewa Falls School District approved a contract Tuesday from a Minnesota firm to complete a new Stillson Elementary and additions to Chippewa Falls Senior High School and Middle School.
The board voted unanimously to accept the contract from ATS&R, a Minneapolis-based architectural firm.
Chippewa Falls School District Superintendent Heidi Taylor-Eliopoulos said several local companies were considered, but for a variety of reasons, the administration recommended ATS&R.
One of those reasons is the “long-standing relationship” the district has with the firm, Eliopoulos said.
The district chose ATS&R in 2014 to complete its master facilities study — something board member Steve Olson said made him more comfortable with the contract.
“It was good to see this was based (on) a continuation of what happened in 2014,” Olson said. “… This is what we based our referendum, our estimated costs off of. That continuity is important.”
ATS&R’s rate for the project is comparable to local rates, Eliopoulos said, and is lower than a previous school district project which involved a local company.
Board member Jennifer Heinz said she approved of ATS&R’s focus on school building construction.
Roughly 95 percent of work ATS&R does involves schools, Eliopoulos said.
The school’s administration, not the board, chooses the firm that will complete the work, Eliopoulos said.
School district policy also prevented the referendum project from undergoing a bid process, Eliopoulos said. Projects over $50,000 must go to bid, except for professional services — a category the new Stillson Elementary and the Chi-Hi and middle school additions fall under.
The district reached out to 19 firms with requests for proposals for a master facilities study in 2014, Eliopoulos said, and received seven responses; ATS&R was ultimately chosen.
Eliopoulos said the district has “several layers of transparency and accountability” during planning and construction.
“At all levels … educators will have a hand in design,” she said, adding that the school board will receive updates on the project monthly.
An executive committee — including members of the business community, the public, the school board and the school administration — will also be formed to oversee the project.
At Tuesday’s meeting, board member Kathy Strecker said she is concerned about the possibility of local backlash from the selection of ATS&R, but said, “We’re here for the best interest of the taxpayers and the students."
School finance manager Chad Trowbridge said although a Minnesota firm was chosen, the community can anticipate local involvement.
“We expect a lot of local people to go to work when we start putting shovels into the ground,” he said.
School board member Pete Lehmann was absent from Tuesday’s meeting.