Hurst, McCready say passage of joint resolution on middle school proves both boards can work together

Tuesday’s passage of a joint resolution between the Board of Supervisors and School Board for additional funding of $911,102 to erase a $2.3 million shortfall in the new middle school project proves the two boards can work together.

That was one message conveyed by the chairmen of both boards following final agreement of the resolution that paves the way for actual construction of the new school to begin.

“Sometimes it appears the two boards aren’t working together,” said School Board Chairman Timmy Hurst, but that was not the case this time.

Supervisors Chairman Andy McCready said representatives of the two boards had been meeting and working diligently over the past two weeks to find a solution to the shortfall.  Those meetings, he said, included himself, County Administrator Jonathan Sweet, Hurst, School Superintendent Dr. Kevin Siers and Assistant Superintendent Chris Stafford.

He said discussions always centered around maintaining the needs of the new school, while protecting the financial security of the county.

Hurst said the $2.3 million shortfall was “a huge concern for us [school board],” and that he believes McCready and the supervisors saw the effort made by school officials to “bring down our end of that shortfall as much as we possibly could.”

“They realized our good faith effort, and we recognize the effort of the Board of Supervisors,” said Hurst. “Needless to say, we actually can work together and do so on many issues.”

“We are very grateful for what the Board of Supervisors has done,” he added.

McCready agreed that the school board had worked hard to close the shortfall.

“It got to the point I was afraid we [negotiators] were going to affect the quality of the school [with further cuts],” he added.

Following the bid opening at the end of August, school officials went to work with Branch and Associates – low bidder on the project – to find ways to eliminate a $2.3 million shortfall between available funding from the bond approved by voters last November and the bid from Branch.

In the end, school officials cut about $1.4 million from the project through value engineering and project alterations.

According to Siers and Hurst, cost-saving changes made to the project included items such as using different types of tile in the building, changes in lighting packages and the use of different brands of self-flushing commodes.

A major cost-saver was the elimination of a mechanical dividing wall in the auditorium that Siers said would have extended down from the ceiling. It was replaced with four-foot wide panels that can be turned and pushed to one side.

Another major item cut was the school’s track for track and field.  Siers said grading for the track would be completed, but asphalt won’t be poured.

“The contractor is holding the price for that for one year for us. Once we know more about the traffic signal and how much we’ll have to put toward that … if money is available the track will probably be the first thing we bring back,” he explained.

He and Hurst are optimistic the track can be brought back in the end.

“We believe we can bring it back. It’s important to us and we absolutely want to bring it back,” Hurst said.

“We’re optimistic,” said Siers. “We still have the contingency funds and if there’s no surprises, that contingency could possibly go toward the asphalt for the new track and maybe some other things like seating around the football field. We feel really good about where we are, and we appreciate everyone stepping up to help.”

Siers and Hurst noted that even Branch helped, providing a $58,000 discount to help get the project under budget.

“Everybody did their part,” said Siers.

“We cut just about everything we could cut without affecting the footprint of that school,” Hurst said.

Earlier, however, the situation looked bleak.

“Things got to the point that it looked like in order to make everything work, we would have needed a serious conversation about the auxiliary gym, and whether or not we could afford to keep it in the plans. But with the county stepping in the auxiliary gym will be a part of it, and basically everything else remains.”

Before the county stepped in, however, some strict guidelines were set by the supervisors.

“The school board first had to identify substantial cuts through value engineering and project alterations that did not materially alter the quality or footprint of the school,” McCready said.

Once accomplished, the board asked county staff to identify funding that could be put toward the remainder of the shortfall.

Those funds, however, could not cause the county additional debt or tax increase. Reserve funds could not be used, and the additional spending could not come from the county’s general fund and could not affect current or future operations of the county or school system. The additional funding could also not impact the delivery or quality of core services, could not eliminate current capital projects and purchases, or expose Pulaski County to undue risks.

Included in the joint resolution between the two boards are several stipulations agreed to by both.

Two of the major stipulations include the supervisors agreeing not to “dictate or direct how the additional appropriation may be used to advance the project,” and the School Board agreeing it “shall not in any way, ask the Board of Supervisors for any additional funding to complete the project.”

Hurst said he expects the school board to sign the final construction agreement with Branch next week.