Improvements to Dubuque Senior High School’s auditorium are among the drivers of an increased price tag for extensive renovations planned at the school.

Dubuque Community School Board members on Monday approved an estimated project budget of close to $33.9 million for the second phase of Senior renovations. That cost is about $1.2 million above an architect’s estimate made in June and close to $4 million more than initially budgeted.

However, district officials said the changes are ones they can afford based on available funds. Superintendent Stan Rheingans said that when the project is completed, Senior will be fully renovated.

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“It was good to have those extra dollars available to finalize some things that need to be done,” he said.

Marty Johnson, owner of Straka Johnson Architects, said project officials are planning “really extensive” renovations to the Senior auditorium, including enlarging the stage, raising and changing the steepness of the floor, expanding back-of-house areas, adding new lighting and sound systems and creating a new exterior entrance.

“We’re creating much more enhanced performance venues for both the students’ experience and also the visitor, but mostly the student experience,” Johnson said before the meeting.

Enhancements to the auditorium are expected to cost about $3.5 million. The improvements aim to provide some equity between the auditoriums at Senior and at Hempstead High School.

“With all these enhancements, they will be pretty much on par,” Johnson said.

Other additional funds have been added to the technology and computer equipment portion of the Senior project budget to address remote learning situations such as those presented by the COVID-19 pandemic.

That includes giving classrooms more video conferencing capabilities with improvements such as microphones and speakers. Johnson noted that such upgrades would have use beyond the current pandemic.

“I think this whole environment has created options that maybe were not thought of or really utilized, but even the idea of snow days is now becoming obsolete,” he said.

Other planned renovations include mechanical, electrical and plumbing enhancements; addition of air-conditioning to areas that don’t currently have it; improvements to fine arts spaces; and additions with a new staircase, wrestling room and physical education space.

Kevin Kelleher, the district’s chief financial officer, said the district’s financial adviser indicated he was comfortable with the project reaching a maximum of about $34.5 million. Those estimates included consideration of COVID-19 impacts on revenues from the state’s 1-cent sales tax for school infrastructure.

“He is comfortable now, looking at those estimates, being able to have an all-in for this project at roughly a little over $34 million,” Kelleher said.

The project is expected to go out for bids in January.