03/18/08 — Schools projects now have architect

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Schools projects now have architect

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on March 18, 2008 1:46 PM

The Board of Education Monday night approved an architect and construction manager for phase one of its schools capital project, and discussed the preliminary budget that will be submitted to the county commission.

The 90-minute called meeting was the precursor to a joint meeting today with the commission to discuss facilities and budget.

Six architect firms were interviewed two weeks ago, said Sprunt Hill, assistant superintendent for auxiliary services. Each firm was given a list of questions to submit for consideration, he added.

LS3P of Raleigh was selected as architect for the projects, while R.N. Rouse of Goldsboro was chosen as construction manager.

No dollar amount was mentioned, with both firms now "subject to negotiating an acceptable contract," said Jack Edwards, the board's attorney.

LS3P has been in the schools' construction business more than 100 years, making the firm a standout from the start, said members of the board's building and grounds committee.

"They're definitely serious about doing the project for $23 million," board member John P. Grantham said. "They can do a Cadillac or more austere type of construction."

Board member George Moye credited Hill with bringing together a solid group of contenders.

"I think any of the six could have done the job," he said, noting that LS3P "was a little bit more Madison Avenue than the others. They seemed to have put a little more into it."

Rouse has handled district projects before, and officials said they have been consistently pleased with the way they do business.

"I think it's a very fine group to work with and they really try to do what you want," board member Pete Gurley said.

A draft of the local current expense budget was presented to the board by Nan Barwick, assistant superintendent for finance. The $22.3 million proposal reflects a 6 percent increase over the previous year's $21 million plan.

Increases centered around the anticipated 10 percent increase Gov. Mike Easley has recommended for teacher salaries. The 10 percent increase is also proposed for substitute teachers and administrators.

Superintendent Dr. Steven Taylor said the county manager had requested the district's preliminary budget by April 1. A "handful of items" on the expansion budget will also be presented during the joint session.

"Last year, we sent over about $12.5 million (for the expansion budget). We did not receive any funding," he said.

Taylor said he chooses to remain optimistic about the outcome since the commission did ask for the list of requests.

"I don't know if we'll get any funding for (it), but at least we'll offer that for consideration," he said.

One item mentioned by the commission, Taylor said, had been the possibility of hiring someone to coordinate a mentoring program, most likely at the middle school level.

"If they're willing to provide that, we're certainly willing to look at that," he said.

The district would also like to address additional security at the schools, at a cost of about $250,000, and enhancing its early grades offerings. Among the proposals would be additional mobile pre-K buses over the next five years, with the possibility of working with Partnership for Children of Wayne County to secure additional funds.

"We want to provide as much pre-K as we can," Taylor said. In addition to the bus, he said officials are investigating a summer school program for rising first- through third-graders.

While summer school has not been an option in the younger grades, he explained the premise would be to shore up test score outcomes.

Estimated cost for those projects came in at $250,000, he said.

The school system has already put into place a variety of additional programs, this year as well as last, Taylor told the board. Specifically, he mentioned the career academies and two newest high school programs, the School of Engineering and Wayne Early/Middle College High School.

Now it's time to look toward the future, he said, responding to the business leaders' recent interest in preparing students for tomorrow's workforce.

"Hopefully we could move toward enhancing our career academies, our high schools, put together a committee of our business people, business partners and go visit schools like we did before we added our other high school (programs), see what's out there, come back with a proposal," he said. Most likely such a venture could not be done by the next school year, but certainly by the following year, he added.

The preliminary expansion budget totals about $750,000, far less than last year's $12.5 million, Taylor noted.

But beyond the dollar amount, he stressed the bottom line for anything being done in the school system -- providing the best educational advantages possible to each and every child in Wayne County.

"Our sense is that all of these items that we talked about will ultimately affect, directly or indirectly, the dropout rate," he said. If students are engaged and respond to what is being offered, they are more likely to complete their education, he said.

"All this ties in to improving that graduation rate and dropout rate," he said.