Joyce Garver Theater renovation bids are $2 million over budget

Camas School District staff to look into other funding sources for remodeling historic building, bring ideas to school board later this month

Plans to renovate the historic Joyce Garver Theater in Camas — a final piece of the $119.7 million construction bond Camas School District voters passed in February 2016 — are on pause after four construction bids came in more than $2 million over budget.

“It’s a difficult project … but for the bids to be this high was a surprise to all of us,” Heidi Rosenberg, the school district’s capital programs director, told Camas School Board members Monday night during the Board’s virtual meeting.
At issue is a $9 million remodel of a historic theater named for Joyce Garver, a former Camas drama, music and art teacher. Built in 1936, the theater was an addition to Camas High School until the 1970s, when the high school was demolished. In the mid-1980s, the theater got a slight upgrade, with a new entry and a few interior revamps. The building served as a performance center — for the school district and the greater Camas community — until the district closed the building in 2009 due to safety concerns.
The district’s 2016 construction bond prioritzed renovating and reopening the theater, along with building Lacamas Lake Elementary and Discovery High schools and upgrading several athletic fields. In January, representatives from Mahlum Architects, the Seattle- and Portland-based firm that designed Lacamas Lake Elementary, the Camas district’s newest grade school, showed school board members a short video of what the Garver Theater might look like by the summer of 2021.
Basic plans call for the theater, which is located next to Liberty Middle School at the corner of Northeast 15th Avenue and Northeast Garfield, to seat more than 700, have an open lobby with a flexible floorplan and upgraded auditorium, balcony and stage, new greenroom/classroom in the northwest corner and new restrooms. Had the bids come in under budget, architects proposed adding a “crossover” space behind the stage, an elevator to access the balcony and upgrades for the balcony seats as well as further enhancement for the first-floor seating.
Rosenberg said the district staff reached out to the two lowest bidders — including Kirby Nagelhout Construction, which had the lowest bid of $11,471,000 — to understand why the bids were higher than expected.
“It doesn’t seem to be related to COVID-19 necessarily,” Rosenberg said. “There are still some unknowns about why they were higher. Our cost estimators have been really good on other projects.”
A few of the factors influencing the higher bids, Rosenberg said, were related to the fact that there are still several school-related construction projects happening in the area.
“It’s not a hungry bid market, so people aren’t lowballing it trying to get in,” she said.
And then there’s the fact that the theater renovation is no simple task.
“It’s a complicated project … doing a lot of work in a very old building,” Rosenberg said. “(And) doing a lot of renovations of major systems.”
The district also wanted to increase accessibility to the historic theater, which added to the costs. And the demolition estimates and structural upgrades also came in higher than expected, Rosenberg said.
Rosenberg and Camas School District Superintendent Jeff Snell said they would like to take another look at the project itself, “go back through what’s left in the bond program” and see if there are other funding sources that might be considered.
They plan to present ideas at the school board’s workshop on Tuesday, May 26, with the possibility of accepting one of the bids at the regular May 26 school board meeting.
School Board member Doug Quinn thanked district staff for considering other funding options.
“If (rejecting the bids) would take us out another year, I would like to … hear back from staff on (another) solution,” Quinn said.
Board member Corey McEnry, who sat on the visioning committee for the theater renovations, agreed that rejecting the bids and postponing the remodel was not his preferred option.
“I do feel like we have a narrow window to get this accomplished,” McEnry said Monday. “The building itself is kind of a community icon. We don’t want to underdeliver with this project … and we don’t want to sacrifice something that will be a part of our district for decades to come without looking at options.”

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