Rejected bids for Mineola M.S. gym and cafeteria halt construction

Mineola Middle School, where Mineola School District officials hope to construct a new gymnasium and cafeteria to add more room for students. // Photo by Calvin Wille/Long Island Advocate

By Calvin Wille

Steep contractor bids dating back to May 2021 have kept construction on the Mineola Union Free School District’s Middle School gymnasium and cafeteria project from getting off the ground.

District Superintendent Michael Nagler said at the Feb. 8 Mineola Board of Education meeting that the main goal initially was to add a few bathrooms near the cafeteria and space to the gymnasium and weight room at the district’s middle school.

Hunter Polmar, a former Mineola Middle School student who is now in high school, described what a project like this could do for students. “Looking back as a high schooler, comparing it to the one we have, [the middle school gymnasium] is small,” Polmar said. “I definitely think that [adding space] could help [students] utilize the gym better.”

Members of the Mineola School District Board of Education discussed the middle school gymnasium and cafeteria project at their meeting on Feb. 8. From left were Trustee Stacey DeCillis, Trustee Brian Widman, Vice President Patrick Talty, President Margaret Ballantyne-Mannion, Superintendent Michael Nagler and Deputy Superintendent Catherine Fishman. // Photo via Mineola YouTube channel

At the Feb. 8 board meeting, Nagler deconstructed the development timeline for this project from the start. According to his report, the project is to be split into two phases, one for work on the gym and the other for cafeteria work.

The district opened the first round of bids to contractors in June 2022, and the least expensive bid received for the two phases was for $12.4 million, around $4 million over the district’s estimated budget. District officials rejected those bids and elected to begin some of the baseline foundational work in the fall of that year.

In January 2023, the district opened a second round of bids for the project. This time, the low bid came in at $12.1 million.

“Much to our surprise, it was the same, slightly less, but still way over what we had allocated for this job,” Nagler said.

At this point, Board of Education members knew they would have to scale back their plans if they wanted to stay in or at least near the project budget. Bids were again rejected, and redesign of the project began.

A blueprint that shows the initial construction plan for the project. // Photo via Mineola YouTube channel

In the redesign plan, the gymnasium wall would no longer be demolished. As a result, new cafeteria bathrooms were moved to the inside of that wall. This new design also increased the size of the cafeteria. Finally, the plan eliminated work on the locker rooms, other than the addition of a football/lacrosse locker room in the basement.

A new blueprint for the project displaying the revised plan. This was created following the Board of Education’s rejection of the second round of bids. // Photo via Mineola YouTube channel

In July 2023, the district committed $1.3 million to an existing bid with Laser to complete “everything under the ground.” This included a new fire hydrant and all of the underground plumbing and underground electric work that was required. The board hoped this would reduce the amount of the lowest bid in the next round in December 2023.

The low bid for phase one of the project, however, came in at $5.4 million — the same number that it was before all the underground work. Nagler, the superintendent, said he could not believe this. In effect, the new bids came in higher than the old ones, because though the amount of the lowest bidder was the same, the scope of the project was reduced because the underground plumbing and electrical work was completed. Once again, the board rejected bids.

The real question now is where the middle school gymnasium and cafeteria project goes from here.

The tentative new plan separates the gym work from the remaining interior plumbing work so the district can act as the general contractor for the interior work and spend what officials think is appropriate. Then, the district will open up a new round of bids for the gym work, with new alternates in place for the cafeteria work. The district hopes to attract new contractors who may be willing to offer a lower bid for the interior work.

For future updates on the Mineola Middle School gymnasium and cafeteria project, keep an eye on the district’s Mineola Creative Content YouTube channel, where future meetings will be livestreamed.