The higher than expected cost of the new county school complex was the main topic of discussion on Tuesday as the Mecklenburg County Board of Supervisors met for their October meeting. Supervisors Claudia Lundy, Chair of the Joint Education Committee, reported that the total cost estimate placed the final cost of the new Middle/High School Complex at $154,864,242.00, which is $34,864,242.00 over budget.
Abe Jeffers, Assistant Superintendent, stated “that increase in cost per square footage was in line with the four other high schools bids last year which ranged from a low of $323.99 per square foot to a high of $376.48 per square foot.”
He added that, in the September 24 meeting of the School Board, “several items could be removed such as the Middle School Auxiliary Gym for $1,000,000.00 and the barn and greenhouses”. The school personnel are working with Skanska on several value engineering items and hope to bring the bid cost down by $4.6 million to a bid cost of $125 million.
Jeffers went on to say he felt that the schools should value engineer as the project progresses.
County Administrator Wayne Carter voiced concerns about the fact that the county has not done value engineering on previous projects and he had serious doubts as to how effective this method would be.
After the reading of the Joint Education Committee minutes, Mr. Jeffers told the supervisors that the bids had been repened and are due to be returned and opened on November 20 at 2 pm. He added that after the 20th opening of bids there will certainly be more discussions between the two boards.
Mr. Jeffers estimated a December timeline moving forward, he explained that licenses and permits are a lengthy process and takes time to obtain.
Supervisor Jim Jennings voiced the opinion that the architects cost estimated had been far from the final bids. “Back in the spring, the architect came here and gave a presentation and put all the figures up on the wall, and told us it would cost $270 per square foot. Now it comes back at $370 per square foot. How come an architect being paid $10 million dollars misses it by that much? It just doesn’t pass the smell test to me.” Mr. Jennings went on to say that this just isn’t working.
Jeffers said he felt opening the new bids would allow for more competition among contractors and that would hopefully bring in lower bids. Jennings replied, “They should have thought about that before giving us the estimates.”
Mr. Carter said that other localities across the state were doing the same. Mr. Jennings stated, “I want the school. It was said it would be $100 million to start. The School Board said they needed $20 million more and we voted unanimously to do that and now, we’re at $35 million over budget. We have got to put the brakes on somewhere. There’s been a breakdown somewhere. I don’t know where it went wrong but I know it’s wrong.”
Mr. Barbour interjected that hopefully the bids will bring some improvement and “we’ll just have to address the issues as they come along.”
The business then turned to the defective boiler at Park View Middle School. Supervisor of Operations and Maintenance for the schools, Brian Walton told the supervisors that the trustees had hoped the boiler situation would last until the new complex had been completed. “A couple of years ago they were down to only one boiler,” said Dalton. “Now, there is no working boiler.”
He explained that the only option they have to get something in before the heating season kicks in around the first of November is a propane condensible boiler. The cost projection had been done and the total cost would be $47,078.85. Mr. Dalton explained that back in May an emergency contingency of $50,000.00 was allocated in the budget. He went on to say that again, they wanted to try and ride it out and hopefully get lucky but unfortunately that didn’t happen at Park View Middle. He itemized the cost and asked that the emergency contingency money be used for this. Mr. Dalton explained that the boiler set up was put in at Bluestone Middle and it was 15% more efficient. Mr. Tanner made a motion to replace the boiler, not to exceed $47,078.85 and the vote was unanimous.
The Emergency Committee notes were read by Mr. Hargrove The current system does not allow for special instructions in dispatched fire calls. The Townsville Fire Department has requested that they be dispatched to all fire calls in the Trading Post/Epps Fork area. Clarksville Fire Department has offered to call 911 and request that Townsville be dispatched. This request can be added to the 911 mes- sage board and hopefully this will take care of the matter until the new CAD system is installed and operational. A motion was made to ammend the protocols as presented by Mr. Hargrove and was passed unanimously. A motion was also made for an emergency fire ban to be enacted and be effective as of midnight Tuesday night. The motions was passed unanimously.
Also on Tuesday, the Supervisors voted unanimously to rezone the old prison site from agricultural to industrial M-1. This was open to public comment and no one spoke. The motion was passed unanimously.
There was also a motion for an update to the zoning ordinance for telecommunication towers and antennas as the old ordinance is outdated. This was open for public comments and no one spoke. Mr. Tanner asked if they will still have the right to locate 911 and the answer was no however, he said that carrier companies said they would work with the county on the matter.
Mr. Corwin gave the voter report and stated that Tuesday, October 15 was the last day to register to vote. The Registrars office will be open the two Saturdays before the election from 2-4 pm. He stated that October 29, is the last day to request absentee voting. He reported that 2020 will be a busy voting year with a lot of prep. He informed the board that House Bill 2178, it has to do with the minimum standards required of any system that touches the state election system, was passed and he was a part of a work group created to set the standards based off the national standards. He added that this would be a delayed implementation that would not cost the county a lot of money. He also told the supervisors that he was not allowed to discuss how far the committee has come with changes because it’s still confidential until it’s approved in the November meeting by the State Board of Elections. Mecklenburg County, he added, is in good shape on security and no one should worry about the voting process.
The Board opened the remainder of the meeting up to comments. Mr. Jennings stated again that while he is supportive of the new school complex and knew the costs would be higher but that he did not realized it would be as high as the latest estimate. He re-iterated that when an architect gives an estimate of $270 per square foot then it comes back as $370 per square foot then something is wrong with that. He stated, ‘I don’t know where you can cut it back but I hope we can fix it.’
Supervisor Sterling Wilkerson agreed. “$10 million is ridiculous in my opinion.” Wilkerson went on to say that he really felt that the School Board should bring the architect back to speak with the board and take some responsibility for being so far off. He stated that repercussions should happen.
Mr. Lenhart agreed that ten million is a lot of money and said, “They’re not going to lay a brick so they should have come closer than they did.”
Mrs. Lundy stated she agreed with what has been said and is just ready for this to come to conclusion and a ground breaking happen. She expressed that the county needed to give the kids a quality education so that they can compete on both the state and national levels.
Mr. Spain stated, “We have one chance to get this right. We have to ask the hard questions and hope we get good answers.”
Mr. Gordon stated he thinks the county is going to get a great school and the benefits from this were going to help all the kids of the county. “We as a board, made some costly choices about where to put it.” He went on to say that where mistakes have been made this project needs to move ahead while not cutting the county short. He explained that the county has to get the ‘best bang’ for the money that’s been put into it. He reiterated Mr. Spain’s comment about only having one chance to get this right. He finished his comments by saying that the new complex was beneficial both economically and as a whole for the community.