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East record enrollment

Students pass between classes at East High School, where enrollment surged past 2,200 in 2018-19. Main hallways are designated for students to flow in a certain direction, with students heading the opposite way limited to a single-file line.

Lincoln Public Schools officials want to hire a design team and construction manager to begin planning a new high school even though the decision about whether to float a bond issue has yet to be made.

The Lincoln Board of Education’s planning committee Tuesday gave the nod to LPS officials to send out requests for proposals for both a design team (architect and engineer) and construction manager, a cost-saving maneuver the district used leading up to two recent bond issues.

The idea is to get a head start on the design process so that if the community does pass a bond issue to pay for what could be one or two new high schools, the district could move forward more quickly and take advantage of an earlier construction season.

Operations Director Scott Wieskamp said doing so — and avoiding what he estimates would be a 3% rise in construction costs if they waited a year to begin work — could save the district between $2 million and $3 million.

It also would mean a new high school could open earlier and relieve existing overcrowding, said Liz Standish, associate superintendent for instruction.

The requests for proposals will stipulate that the design team will be paid up to $450,000; the construction manager up to $50,000, Wieskamp said.

If a bond issue would fail, the contracts would cease and LPS would own whatever work was completed, which it could use in the future.

If a bond issue passes and work goes forward, both groups would be paid significantly more for their work throughout the project.

The district did the same thing before the 2006 bond issue, hiring firms to begin planning the work to renovate the district’s four oldest high schools and to begin design work for what ultimately became Kooser and Adams elementary schools.

They followed the same procedure before the 2014 bond issue, hiring firms to begin planning The Career Academy.

Officials are convinced the district needs a new high school — enrollment at five of the six existing high schools is more than 2,000 this year — but the process is still in the early stages. 

An advisory group comprised of nearly 100 community members and educators is now reviewing the district’s building needs and will make recommendations to the board by Sept. 1.

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The school board will then, presumably, use those recommendations to craft a resolution for a bond issue.

The group is looking at the overall needs of the district, which are broader than just a high school. But the question of a high school is a central issue and likely the most expensive one.

On the question of the high school, the group is considering two primary options: building one comprehensive high school big enough to house 2,000 students — comparable to the district’s existing high schools — or building two smaller high schools with core facilities allowing for expansion at a later date.

The cost of one large high school is estimated at $103 million; the cost of two smaller high schools at $135 million.

The board ultimately will need to approve contracts with the architect and construction manager and work by those groups would begin this summer.

Breaking down Lincoln's public schools

Reach the writer at 402-473-7226 or mreist@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSreist.

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Education reporter

Margaret Reist is a Lincoln native, the mom of three high school graduates now navigating college and an education junkie who covers students, teachers and policymakers inside and outside the K-12 classroom.

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