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The final phase of the seismic retrofit at West High School is $4 million over budget, pushing the total of the project to more than $19.7 million.

Salt Lake School District building and grounds director Steve Harman said the increase was due to inflation, previously undiscovered structural problems and a decision to paint and install floor coverings in the classroom building.Initially, the district planned to redo only the flooring that was damaged during the seismic retrofit, Harman said. "It would look like a patched old building. That wouldn't satisfy the client."

Phase III includes retrofitting the main classroom building and reconfiguring the auditorium into six classrooms and a commons area.

Some members of the Salt Lake Board of Education question if it would have been more cost efficient to build a new high school than spend $8.5 million to retrofit the old main school building.

Harman said recent estimates suggest a new classroom building would cost about $14.4 million.

"When you compare the building to a new building, you say, `Gee whiz, I could have had a V8,' " said board member Roger Thompson.

Despite concerns raised by a number of board members, the school board voted to complete the retrofit.

New high schools in the Jordan School District have cost about $33 million each. Harman said replacing just the classroom portion of the main building would cost at least $14.4 million.

Harman said the school would look fresh and new upon completion of the retrofit project. "In my vision of that building, the only weak point is that commons area," he said.

In a memo to the school board, Harman outlined factors that contributed to the increase, such as seismic bracing that was more complicated than originally thought; construction of new classrooms in the auditorium required more structure than the original plan; the addition of computer and communications hardware and cable.

Further, the district doubled the contingency fund from the first estimate "due to the difficulty of installation of seismic bracing and the unknown factors in the tunnels under the building and what we will find in walls, floors and ceilings that are opened."

"This was under estimate but over what we budgeted a year ago," said Harman.

Business administrator Gary Harmer said the overrun could delay other retrofit projects and may force the district to borrow money on a short-term basis before the end of the 1996-97 school year. Phases I and II at West cost nearly $11 million, putting the total cost of the project to date at $19.7 million. Phase I included demolition of the auxiliary gym. Phase II included construction of a new auditorium and technology wing.

This was second time work on a high school retrofit project exceeded estimates. Earlier, work on Highland High School was about $4 million over estimates, even after it was rebid.

"It just boggles my mind we keep being off $4 million and $5 million on these projects. Is that the closest we can come on these projects?" said board member Diane Barlow.

In November 1993, Salt Lake residents authorized the district to issue and sell up to $70 million in general obligation bonds to speed up retrofit efforts.