The Oxford Area School District has awarded bids totaling $20.5 million for the renovation of the former Oxford Area High School into a middle school.

The 10 apparent low bidders are led by E.R. Stuebner, Inc. for $6.6 million for general trades. Other bids were awarded for masonry, roofing, electrical, glass, drywall, food-service equipment, plumbing, sprinklers and HVAC.

The HVAC system, bid at $3.5 million by Worth & Company, is the second-largest contract on the list, but there are other expenses related to heating and cooling of the building.

The district accepted a proposal from Reynolds Consulting Engineers Inc. for building commission services in the amount of $123,620. For this fee, the firm will watch the design and construction of the heating and cooling system in the building to ensure that it will work correctly.

The board voted 6 to 2 to go ahead with the building commission service for the new middle school, with Valerie Kegley and Henry O'Connor opposed.

Similar commissioning services had been proposed when the district was building its new high school, but the board rejected the idea at the time. Since its opening in September, the high school has had a number of problems with the heating and cooling system. Most recently, when the boilers were turned off as the weather warmed, the building found itself without hot water in the sinks.

Reynolds has proposed going in to do a similar commission service at the new high school after the fact, but that has not come before the board for a decision yet. When asked how much the heating and cooling problems at the new building have cost the district, business manager Charles Lewis could not give a figure since the problems seem to be ongoing.

The work on the old high school is now being called the Penn's Grove project. Middle school classes will move from the current Penn's Grove building to the revamped former high school. Once the work is completed and that move is made, the current Penn's Grove building will be renovated into a new elementary school.

To accomplish the switch to an elementary school, the board authorized AP3 Architects to start plans for the building conversion. The cost of the engineering and design will be based on a percentage of the total construction budget that is eventually decided for that project.

Kegley was hesitant about approving the architect's proposal without a firm price first.

"What incentive do they have to keep the cost down?" she asked.

David Hill, of AP3, who was at the board meeting, tried to assure the board that his firm does not inflate its costs - particularly since it hopes to have future projects with the district. "The bottom line is trust," he said. "Our incentive is a long-term relationship with the school district."

AP3 was also authorized to go ahead with a planning study for the district's future needs at a cost of $5,000 plus expenses.

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