School district selects contractor, issues bonds

The Vashon Island School District selected a general contractor and issued its first round of bonds last week — two significant steps in its multi-million-dollar construction project at Vashon High School.

The school board, at the recommendation of Superintendent Michael Soltman, Capital Projects Manager Eric Gill, VHS Principal Susan Hanson and others, selected New York-based Skanska as the project’s general contractor. 

Skanska, which has offices in Seattle, beat out two other finalists for the $47.7 million project — New York-based Turner Construction Co. and the much smaller Puyallup-based Absher Construction Co. — after it secured the most points in an analysis that looked at the firms’ price proposals, experience, understanding of the project and team compatibility.

Skanska, Soltman said, “clearly stood out, in a whole variety of ways.”

Both Soltman and Gill said they were impressed by the firm’s commitment to work with Vashon-based subcontractors. The company, for instance, will put together bid packages that are sized right for Vashon’s small-scale firms and hold workshops for local contractors and vendors that will enable them to compete for portions of the project, Soltman said.

“A key measure of the success of this project will be the degree to which it involves the local community,” he said.

Gill said he was also impressed by the firm’s willingness to “think outside of the box” and engage the local community in cost-saving initiatives. Dur-

ing the interview, for in-stance, Skanska officials said they’d hold “community mulch days,” Gill said, where Islanders could bring bundles of brush and other clean green to the high school to send through a chipper, helping Skanska come up with the 50,000 cubic yards of mulch it will need for the project’s landscaping.

Firm representatives also brought native plants to the interview, noting they intended to landscape with native trees and shrubs and suggesting that the school — in its horticulture class — start growing seedlings soon so they’d be ready in a few years, when it’s time to plant.

“This was part of their overall approach — thinking creatively about how to engage the community and save money,” Gill said.

Meanwhile, the district issued its first bonds last week, securing what Soltman called “a very favorable interest rate.”

The district sold $24 million in bonds at a 4.23 percent interest rate. It issued another $17.5 million in bonds at zero interest. The district was awarded the Qualified School Construction Bond, as the $17.5 million package is called, from the federal government last year; the program provides federal income tax credits in lieu of interest to lenders who purchase bonds from eligible school districts.

Soltman said he thought the district might face a small interest cost on the Qualifi-ed School Construction Bond. School Board member Bob Hennessey said the zero interest rate could save the district $13 million over the life of the loan.

“This is huge news for the community,” he said. 


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