New middle school shaping up

Oconto Falls School Board questions the number of change orders
Warren Bluhm
News Editor

The walls are going up at Oconto Falls Middle School, the new facility across County Road I from the high school.

Superintendent Dean Hess told the school board March 18 that the project has been proceeding much more quickly that expected thanks to the mild winter.

“A lot of the metal stud work is completed, you can see that they’ve put up precast walls for the gym,” Hess said. “They’re actually going to be working on the gym roof here in the next few weeks. They’re also going to be pouring concrete on the second floor of the academic wing here in the next few weeks.”

The board had a lot of questions about the number of change orders that it has been asked to approve for the project, which started in May with a targeted opening in fall 2025. This month, district accountant Kim Sinclair presented six change orders totaling $32,000.

The extra work was required by an inspector who ordered more structural support under the HVAC chillers on the roof than Somerville Architects had designed, Sinclair said. The inspector also wanted a different placement for electrical boxes in the technical education area.

“Basically, it’s the difference between the architect at Somerville and what the inspector felt was the needed amount of structural support underneath those chillers,” Hess said. “The way it’s explained to me is that this isn’t like they made a mistake. It’s just a disagreement, which is not uncommon.”

Board member Chad Early said the board’s project managers at Nexus Solutions should be paying the difference.

“We’re paying for this because I don’t think they did their job,” Early said. “Why are we paying for their mess-ups? They’re all on our dime, and we don’t even care.”

Hess said the board chose to hire Nexus to oversee the project and bring change orders to the district as they occur. The alternative, he said, would have been to pay a contractor who would incorporate all conceivable contingencies into their asking price, which the district would have to pay whether the money was spent or not.

Sinclair said the contingency fund for the project is still at $1.8 million, higher than expected at this stage.

“I don’t think what’s happening here is out of the ordinary when you have a building the size of what we’re doing,” Hess said. “I think you’re going to see situations where an inspector comes in and they’re going to find things that they’re going to expect you to change.”

Board President Clint Gardebrecht told Sinclair to keep monitoring progress as she has been.

“Some change orders are going to happen, that’s the way we’re handling the contract, but if there’s things you’re uncomfortable with and you think we’re being taken advantage of or anything like that, that’s where I think we want things pointed out,” Gardebrecht said.

Early said representatives from Nexus should be at every board meeting.

“When there’s a big change like this, Nexus needs to be here,” he said. “We’re paying good money, and they need to be here for this.”

Also in his monthly update, Hess credited office manager Debbie Woods, technology director Cory Jeffers and Deb Smith of Nexus for keeping the referendum page on the district website,, updated with the latest information about the project.

The superintendent also cautioned interested members of the public to stay off the construction site.

“We always remind people that if you want to take a look at it, you’re welcome to, but please, we welcome that look from County I,” Hess said. “We have had a few people who’ve literally driven onto the work site and gotten themselves too close to the action, so to speak. We’re appreciative of the community, and we love that folks want to see what’s going on, but we also want to keep you safe.”