Wasatch High School Construction

WHS picHere’s how a $59.5 mil bond election in 2006, turned into $80 mil+/- (depending on who you talk to)  high school in 2010. Wasatch High School costs, concerns, and state audit on school construction featuring our district is below.  In 2013,  just 4 years after construction was completed, new classrooms were added and an expansion of the cafeteria was necessary? Now the school board is dropping the idea of ANOTHER high school that will be needed in less than 8-10 years. This high school was supposed to last us for decades….  What went wrong, you ask? It started long before the high school bond election in Nov. 2006.  With most school districts a bid process would go something like this: School district decides on a budget and that they want a new design, they determine the needs of their children, they advertise for the bid applications and give the interested firms specific details of what school we want, they share information with ALL applicants that one firm has due to their previous relationship with the district,  the firms come back with a bid within our budget for the parameters set by the district and they pick the one that is best for our community.

There was no effective bid process for these architects to submit a new design based on our “very special” needs assessment that was compiled prior to this process by Sandstrom.  If only they would have received that information from our school district to have a fair process, they would have brought great designs to the table within our budget. That explains why the design is extravagant to many people. 

This is how Wasatch bid; Sandstrom was awarded the architectural services bid (with no prior experience in designing a complete high school), we got ONE design from them (after they worked on it a year) based on every high school department’s wish list, and then the district came up with a price after they had a contractor bid that design. Kind of backwards! If we knew we wanted a new design, why didn’t we have an open bid for experienced architects to bring ideas to us within a certain budget? That would have been a more cost effective procedure. 

In this continuing process, the school board authorized a payment to Sandstrom of $382,500 on August 17, 2006 to continue work on a design that did not go through a bid process, and had ZERO PUBLIC INPUT prior to announcing the bond.  Even the previous “facilities committee”, who volunteered countless hours a couple years prior, was never asked for their input before it was released to the public. The school board agenda didn’t include any discussion of a new design for a high school either, as per the open meetings act. This decision to spend OUR money was made before we even had our first public hearing on Sept. 26, 2006. 

The Wasatch School District made decisions in a bubble, and without following state procurement law, which explains the disbelief now of the public on the extravagance of this design. (There are two schools that were built in 2008 for the same approximate number of students for $32 Mil and $36 Mil., with beautiful facilities.) Here is a concise overview of missteps the Wasatch School Board had during the bid process and construction, following the direction by the superintendent and business administrator, which explains the excessive design and costs. 

High School Bond Process Overview

  • Sandstrom Associates finish North School Renovation and build Old Mill Elementary.
  • Sandstrom helps gather information, with the Facilities Committee, and presents a Facilities Overview of Wasatch School District in 2004.
  • After Sandstrom completes Facilities Overview, they ask the Wasatch School District if they can interview Wasatch High School staff and teachers for a needs assessment; to compile their wish list for a new school.
  • While Sandstrom is finishing building Old Mill Elementary, they work on the new high school design for 2 years.
  • Wasatch School Board decides to begin the high school bond process and advertises Request For Qualifications for an architect the beginning of February 2006, and closes the bids on February 24, 2006.
  • The 5 school board members ARE THE ONLY members of the selection committee and they have no architect, and/or contractor, from the community to assist in this process which is required by USOE guidelines.
  • 8 Architects bid and the top 3 Architects were Sandstrom (455), MHTN (439), and Naylor Wentworth (415). 25% of the very unscientific grading system was for individual and firm experience. Sandstrom had never designed/built a full high school before and both MHTN and Naylor Wentworth had individually built 15-20 high schools.
  • None of the Architects, even the top 3, were given the opportunity to give a formal presentation to the school board, which is highly unusual.
  • On March 7, 2006, the School board decides to do a site visit to each of the Architect’s schools. NaylorWentworth-MurrayHigh School, MHTN- Lone Peak High School, and Sandstrom-TimpViewHigh School (Thunderdome ADDON) and Provo High School (auditorium, media center ADD ON).
  • On March 9, 2006, at the school board meeting, they announce Sandstrom is the architect because they “fell in love” with their new design. The bid process took all of 13 days for a $60 million dollar high school design.
  • Architects said that they had no idea Wasatch School Board wanted a new design, and that Sandstrom had been allowed to do their own needs assessment prior to the bid process. They were only asked about their existing high schools and one architect in particular said that he could tell the school district was only pumping them for information on how to build it, not on how the architect would work together with the district.
  • The president of the board, at the time, was asked why she didn’t like the more experienced architects. She replied that she didn’t like the way the outside of their schools looked with the dated brick exterior. She was asked if  she knew what architects do?
  • WSD signs contract with Sandstrom Architects.WHS- Sandstrom architect contract   Worth reading the terms!   ( Info from an expert after reading this contract: “If you read carefully the Architect was paid prior to signing $382,500. On page two to cover engineering fees these are listed as being part of the Contract. The total from the list of payments comes to $1,980,584.00 plus the $382,500.00  represents $2,363,084.00 in architectural payments on a Contract that states and construction cost of $50,501,800. If for some reason the District decided to pay for the additional construction cost $11,000,000  plus or minus there might be an add of $374,000.00 based on 3.4% in the contract. (although the contract says that the architect should redesign at his expense to bring in into budget). However, my calculations show that architect was paid an additional $646,000.00 .  3.4% of the final construction cost on the schedule of values would be 3.4% X 61,970,113 = $2,106,984.00.  Looks like Sandstrom got a $250,000 bonus for going 22% over budget- nice work.)
  • Jacobsen Construction, who was building Old Mill Elementary, was asked to do a cost breakdown of the new design to build. A school board member, in a public board meeting attended by citizens, said that they instructed Jacobsen that they needed to come in under $60 million or the bond would never pass in an election.Not sure if Jacobsen was ever paid specifically for that work, prior to the bond election and before the contractor bid process.
  • On August 17, 2006, the school board allocated $382,500 to Sandstrom for architectural fees, prior to the bond election in November 2006. If the bond would not have passed, the school district would have wasted that money. Local architects and contractors voiced their concerns about building the elaborate design for $59.5 million, but the school board said they had a bid done by Jacobsen. Here it is: Jacobsen bid for WHS 8-2006- prior to bond election. (Remember WSD said construction budget was $46.2 mil).
  • At a “Meet the Candidates” night, in October, the school board showed up to inform the public on the new high school. One board member talked about what a great construction company Jacobsen was and how they are looking forward to working with them on the new high school. That was unusual, since the school board had not done a bid process for the contractor yet. The school board was also asked about a competitive bid process on the design and they clearly did not know what that was. They stated how they “really tried not to pick Sandstrom” and how they did a site visit. They spoke nothing of sealed bids on a new design, in a public meeting, by the top 3 architects which is standard procedure.
  • The school district did a bid process for contractors, late 2006, and awarded Layton Construction the project.
  • March 5, 2007, Layton Construction and WasatchSchool District signed a contract stating the terms of the contract.  No where was there a guaranteed maximum price for the project. Also, on the first page of the contract in section 2.1.1 it states:

PRELIMINARY EVALUATION: The Construction Manager acknowledges that Owner’s budget for this Project, including the preconstruction, construction, and post-construction phases, and the Cost of the Work and the Construction Manager’s Fee during each of those phases, is $46,200,000.00. (NOTE TO LAYTON: WCSD wants to leave this at $46,200,000. However, they understand that you have told them that the price for their project as currently designed will assuredly come in at a higher number.)

  • During the September 2007 school board meeting the GMP was finally disclosed… $59,881,637 for the new high school construction. The bond itself was $59.5 million which includes ALL expenses on the project. On the Layton Construction contract dated March 5, 2007, the budget the school district used was $46.2 million. Now our superintendent stated, at this board meeting, that that was not “really our budget amount”. When the school board was asked if they are going to include the public on the decision making, in the future, to come up with the $13.6 million overrun, they first said it was not that much. The math is 59.8 – 46.2 =  13.6. The $59.8 million does not include a finished school. There are sections of the school that will be “SHELLED” which means they build the structure, but don’t do the finish work until later (for who knows how much). The little theater, one gym, and 4 classrooms will be shelled now. The square footage went up, to 320 sq.ft., after the fire marshal required the design to be to code I presume. Fire separation and egress width were given as the reasons. It was also mentioned that another school district is having the same problems as ours with the construction on their design.  Mr. Sandstrom (architect) said Alpine, which coincidently bought OUR DESIGN from Sandstrom, after our bond election.
  • November 2008. School Board meeting. School District votes to pass the realignment of grades which authorizes 9th grade to go back into the new high school. No motion was made to also authorize the additional $750,000 the school district said would be needed to finish the “shelled in” portions of the new construction.  No mention of the money, or what fund it was going to come from. The plan totally swaps the middle school with the jr. .high, as well as move the 5th grade to the middle school, 7th grade to the jr. high, and 9th grade to the new high school. The parents overwhelmingly rejected this plan in the public hearing, but one parent made the observation publicly that the school board seemed to already have made up their minds. The board said it was the only way to put off building another school in the near future.
  •  November 2008. Legislative Audit on School Construction  released. Wasatch High School construction bid process was cited in the audit: FULL School Construction Legislative audit 11-2008    2008 Legislative audit excerpts- discussed WHS architectural bid process                                              Wasatch Wave- school board audit response 12-10-08                                          ___________________________________________

Shoemaker email to teachers 6-07

SLTRIB- Wasatch Audit 15 MIL over

SLTRIB OP-ED –We need state oversight in school construction 12-19-08

SLTRIB-Building Schools 1-8-2009

Wave article -H.S. 8-1-07- design changes


WHS GRAMA total school cost 2008

Wasatch District- total WHS cost as of 11-09 SD to ALL subcontractors)

WHS COST- updated amount 6-30-2010 (reveals that $6,653,923 are from TAX PROCEEDS from 2007-2010)    One month before the 8-16-2007 Truth in taxation hearing Supt. Shoemaker stated in the article “Financial Challenges” here:  Wave article -H.S. 6-20-07  that the WSD board would NOT ASK the public to pay for over runs in the high school construction.

Herriman High School was built around the same time as ours, and got all the extras of the ball fields, stadium, etc for almost what we paid for our high school building. We paid ala carte for everything around it, parking lots, etc. Compare projects: 
Location: Herriman, Utah
Size: 390,000 SQ. FT.
Cost: $71,960,000
Date: 2010
Location : Wasatch
size: 320,000 SQ.FT
Cost: $69,101,921
Date: 2009
See Herriman here: http://www.mhtn.com/work/k12ed/det_ked_06.html


Original WHS bond schedule-06

WHS-GRAMA 7-2011 schedule of payments

WHS-GRAMA 7-2011 part 2- sch. of pymts and change orders

CHANGE ORDERS ARE KEY TO FINDING MISMANAGEMENT OF FUNDS. Here’s a reponse to the above GRAMA information from an expert:

“Several items seem to jump out from the reports that you sent.

One, there are a tremendous amount of change orders that are not defined the Change Orders bundle Change request totaling 165 different change request but do not list work or scope of work included so that it would be possible to determine what was done and if pricing were appropriate or even if the work were necessary.

The total of changes that were attached is shown on the application for payment and add to $1,537,355.00 represents slightly over 2.5% of the original contract. There is nothing that shows how the contingency line 17 on the schedule of values ‘attached to the payment request which was $2,837,146.00 was spent this represents 4.7 % of the total contract with no record in the documentation of how this was spent and what was provided for this large amount of money.

Further the record of payments which includes payments to the Archtiect and to some Engineering and testing agencies contains items that usually would be part of the Construction Contract and would add to the total construction cost. Why was the District making direct payments to Kelley Construction, Codale Electric, Utah/Yamas Controls and Qwell Precast ($77,850.24)

Most Districts cover all construction cost and design fees as well as Furniture and equipment from the Bond the total costs here do not include furniture, fixtures and equipment (FF&E) such things as desks, printers, computers, projection tables and chairs for the media center ……. Were these cost in the change orders or are there more costs hidden in other accounts?

How is the District paying the difference between actual costs and what was voted for in the bond?”


This website is for educational purposes only, unless it is specifically stated that WTPA has a stance on a specific issue. To the best of our knowledge this is correct information, but we welcome corrections if errors are found.


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