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Although the COVID-19 pandemic has halted a myriad other areas of public life, the construction and maintenance projects associated with Rochester Public Schools’ bond referendum are still moving forward.

Keane McWaters, project manager for Knutson Construction, provided an update to Rochester School Board members Tuesday during the district’s board meeting, giving an overview of where some of the projects stand and whether they’ve been affected by the coronavirus.

“We’re not projecting that we’re going to have any issues with construction on any of these (projects) at this point,” McWaters said. “But again, we’re kind of figuring this all out.”

Rochester voters approved a $180.9 million bond referendum in November, which is funding the various projects. It includes the construction of a new middle school; three elementary schools, two of which will be tear-down replacements of existing schools; as well as upgrades to other buildings throughout the district.

Although the pandemic has not halted the plans overall, there are some obstacles that project managers are trying to navigate. McWaters said he is unsure whether there will be a delay with any of the construction materials. He also said they are trying to determine how to facilitate the design meetings while still maintaining “social distance.”

McWaters gave his update to the school board in a room that had been rearranged to accommodate a greater distance between each person.

Scott Sherden, director of operations for Rochester Public Schools, also spoke briefly about the difficulty of working on the projects while maintaining distance.

“I am concerned a little bit about how we’re going to continue to do some of the design meetings,” he said. “We’re still working through that process because some of the design teams are rather large and require close quarters.”

Superintendent Michael Muñoz said they may have to alter how they obtain input from the public on the projects since large gatherings are discouraged.

But despite concerns, McWaters said they are still moving forward.

The school district is still unsure where it will be able to build the new middle school, which is one of the bigger unknowns among the bond referendum projects.

“The big-ticket item here, I would say, is getting the site selected,” McWaters said. “These guys are going to continue designing as far as they can, but without knowing final layouts of buildings, it’s going to be very hard to continue, so the next few weeks are going to be really critical on the middle school project.”

While the location of the middle school is still up in the air, McWaters noted that the Park Board approved the division of Schmidt Park in anticipation of the new elementary school.

“They did approve that,” McWaters said. “It will still have to go through final platting, but that was a big step forward for us on that site.”

Although the location of the middle school is still uncertain, McWaters said he hopes they can break ground on both the middle school and the new elementary school by the end of the year.

“We are still planning for an August start date on construction for the elementary school and an October (start date) for the middle school,” he said.

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