1 year later: Cost for Salt Lake City School District’s new HQ has jumped by millions; opening a year away

The pace of construction was slowed by heavy snowfall last winter but the opening date is still generally on track, the district says.

(Bethany Baker | The Salt Lake Tribune) Construction crews continue work on a new administrative building for the Salt Lake City School District in Salt Lake City.

A year after approving a $34 million rebuild of the Salt Lake City School District’s main office building, construction is now slated to be complete at the end of summer 2024 — with a steep increase in cost.

District offices, located on 440 E. 100 South, were in the last building in the district to be rebuilt or retrofitted for seismic safety. The district’s half-a-billion dollar effort to make all of its schools and buildings safe during earthquakes began in 1996.

This final rebuild is proceeding as the district and school board leaders are studying and considering whether to close up to seven elementary schools, due to years-long declines in enrollment. Using an existing school building as the district’s headquarters, district spokesperson Yándary Chatwin noted last year, would have required identifying a place large enough to fit the entire administrative staff, and she said it wasn’t clear whether the district had such a space.

School board members had approved a $34 million budget for the rebuild in June 2022. This summer — in July — board members approved a purchase order to Big D Construction Corporation that increased the project cost to $58,458.616.

“The reason the cost has increased is due to materials, due to inflation,” Chatwin said in an interview earlier this month. “The design hasn’t changed ... but in the time that we’re living, when we’re seeing construction costs skyrocketing and long wait times for a lot of materials, that’s just the world we’re living in right now.”

The additional money for the rebuild will come from the district’s reserves, she added, and there was no need seek a bond that would have put “any additional burden on taxpayers.”

The district began discussing the rebuild in 2018 and 2019, and approved an architect to design the new building. However, the process of requesting proposals from companies and hiring a general contractor was halted in 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Chatwin said.

And while the district received an initial estimate of “$33-ish million” — and approved that amount — for the building, Chatwin said, the general contractor had given a maximum bid of close to $60 million. “Knowing that it was coming,” she said, a previous business administrator “had been working with our financial teams to set aside that money and grow that fund. We didn’t take on this project until we had the money to do it.”

Previously, the district aimed to have the building complete by May 2024, she said. Construction was delayed due to heavy snowfall in the winter, she said, but the plan now to open by the end of summer 2024 still falls within the original two-year estimate of the general contractors.

(Bethany Baker | The Salt Lake Tribune) Construction crews continue work on the administrative building for the Salt Lake City School District in Salt Lake City on Friday, Sept. 1, 2023.

A ‘nice change for employees’

The new office is planned to be an “L”-shaped building that will run along 100 South and 400 East, according to blueprints then-Executive Director of Auxiliary Services Paul Schulte presented to board members in 2021. The site will also include a two-level parking garage for employees.

While most of the building will be made of brick, the south side of the building will mostly be made from glass, he said, which will tint with the changing seasons, allowing the district to save money on air conditioning in the summer and provide natural light in the winter.

“We’re conscientious about the neighborhood and making sure it wasn’t so modern that it didn’t fit into the community,” Schulte said. “I think it struck a good balance.”

The natural light will also make the work experience “more comfortable for employees,” Chatwin said.

“The old building was built many decades ago, and it was quite dark and heavy and had not great lighting in the building,” she said. “So that’ll be kind of a nice change for employees.”

And it’s more than just a place for a district employees to work, she added.

“It is an office building, but it’s also the space where our board meetings are held, so it’s a public space, it’s funded through our taxpayer dollars, and so this is the community’s building as well,” Chatwin said. “So as those plans are finalized and we have an opening date, we’ll make sure folks are aware of that.”

(Bethany Baker | The Salt Lake Tribune) Construction crews continue work on the administrative building for the Salt Lake City School District in Salt Lake City on Friday, Sept. 1, 2023.

Other district construction projects

The district headquarters rebuild comes amid other projects that have begun or been discussed by board members.

Currently, the district is preparing for the demolition of Rosslyn Heights Elementary, which closed in the early 2000s and had housed the charter Salt Lake School for the Performing Arts since 2006. In August, board members approved a purchase order of $340,491 to Impact Demolition Inc. for the building’s demolition.

Board members have also been discussing the possibility of seeking a bond in order to fund the rebuilds of both West and Highland High School. Earlier this year, the board approved increasing its spending on feasibility studies for rebuilding the schools, which has exceeded $1 million.