Middle school debate takes surprising turn

Debate over construction of a new, consolidated middle school took a new turn last Friday afternoon during a work session of the Pulaski County Board of Supervisors.

Friday’s work session began with a presentation by Ben Motley of RRMM Architects on the design and estimated costs of the proposed school, and a review of answers to no less than 30 questions on the design posed to RRMM by the Board of Supervisors.

After over two hours of discussion, Supervisors Chairman Andy McCready said his biggest concerns about the project surround whether “we’ve gotten the square foot number correct, and whether we have enough contingency.”

Contingency funds are amounts held in reserve to deal with unforeseen circumstances.

McCready noted he had never dealt with a project where contingency was so low – 2.5 percent.

“I’m really concerned about that.  I just don’t have a lot of confidence with that low an amount of contingency,” McCready said.

Motley had earlier explained that the proposed $45.7 million price tag for the new school includes grading costs of $1,250,000, including a design contingency of 10 percent.  An overall construction contingency of $994,000 (2.5 percent) has been included also.

The $45.7 million price of the proposed school is based partly on a per square foot cost of $195.

McCready suggested the supervisors seek a second opinion on two parts of Motley’s plans for the school.

“I’d like to see if we can bring in a road engineer to take a quick overview and talk with VDOT directly, and see if there is enough money budgeted to accomplish everything they’re (VDOT) is going to want on Route 11,” McCready suggested about plans for entrances to the school site off Route 11. The site, as earlier reported, is along Rt. 11 across from Cougar Express and Walters Trailer Park.

McCready then offered a second suggestion to the supervisors – that being for the hiring of an architect to review Motley’s numbers.

“This (middle school) represents the single largest investment in Pulaski County that we have made in our history,” McCready said. “I’m sure Mr. Motley has done his very best, but before I’m going to get an operation, I’ll want a second opinion. I would suggest we go ahead and have an architect review the numbers and historic costs.”

McCready said the board would then schedule a work session to review their figures, then decide how it wants to proceed.

“We are on a very tight time frame,” interjected Cloyd District Supervisor Joe Guthrie.

McCready agreed, and instructed County Administrator Jonathan Sweet to “make that clear” to firms seeking to provide the second opinions, noting that if the firms are covered up with work, they should not bid.

McCready added that the supervisors must also schedule a meeting with bond counsel and another work session will be scheduled for that.

The Board of Supervisors will hold their next regular meeting on July 24. A final decision on whether to move forward with the middle school – or ask the Circuit Court to add the issue to the November ballot as a referendum for voters to decide – could come then.

Time is growing short for those on both sides of the debate.  If the issue is to wind up on the November ballot, the court must respond to a request from supervisors and order the vote by Aug. 18.

-By MIKE WILLIAMS

The Patriot