02/20/14 — Board of Education eyes design/build

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Board of Education eyes design/build

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on February 20, 2014 1:46 PM


That's how school officials described their reaction to the county commission's 4-3 vote Tuesday favoring the design/build method to construct two new middle schools.

The vote pre-empted the school board's intent to put forth a resolution securing support for lease purchase on the projects and sends Wayne County Board of Education back to the drawing board. A special-called meeting will be held Friday with the architect to "consider and take any action deemed necessary and appropriate to proceed with the construction of the new Grantham and Spring Creek middle schools" by the design/build process.

Board member Rick Pridgen, among the contingent who attended the commission meeting -- along with the district's superintendent, finance director and board members Chris West and Arnold Flowers -- questioned the way the scenario played out.

"I didn't think it would pass with a 7-0 vote but I thought we would get four (votes)," he said. "Obviously, we only had three buy into it.

"We proved to them a week ago how much more design/build would cost and how much these schools would wind up costing."

The school board held a meeting last Friday and invited the commissioners to attend and hear a presentation by architect Robert Ferris, CEO and president of SfL+a, about the merits of lease purchase and the cost savings that accrue with time by building energy-efficient schools.

"We're kind of at odds," Pridgen said. "Interestingly enough, the question was asked of Davenport (the county's consultant), how many lease/build purchases have you done? They've only done one."

Ferris' company has done construction under the design/build model, Pridgen said, but there have only been a few design/build schools in the state because legislation was just passed recently.

He said he was a bit skeptical of the consultant's recommendation to do design/build, especially since Davenport had been affiliated with SfL+a's Sandy Grove Middle School project in Hoke County that has been used as the prototype for the proposed facilities in Wayne County.

"Their report (Tuesday), I can't prove it but personally, I feel it was a specially crafted report for what they went in there to do today," he said of the commission vote. "I think it was pretty much a done deal before the thing started."

While the motion did not contain details about funding or specific amenities, Pridgen said he was doubtful the district can build the size school it had originally intended or move forward as anticipated.

"We're not going to be able to get the interest rate," he said. "There's a good possibility we won't be able to open those schools in 2015. I can't say that they won't open but it's not very likely. We would have had to move in the next week or so for the LGC (Local Government Commission) to meet on this in April."

Pridgen said it has been a long road to get to this point, dating back to the facilities plan submitted to the commission in December 2002.

"I walked out of there very frustrated (Tuesday). I looked at 12 years' worth of work going down the drain," he said. "That's where we are right now -- they have to approve how we spend their money on a project like that. They have to sign off on it and both boards have to agree when they take it to the LGC."

Pridgen said he was a bit incredulous about where things now stand.

"In all the research that we have done, I do not see how we can do design/build and do the quality of schools we want to do in this county," he said. "But we won't have any choice now but to go out and seek bids."

Schools Superintendent, Dr. Steven Taylor said the move by the commission doesn't exactly put the district back to square one, but there will definitely be a lot to discuss with the architect on Friday.

He said he is choosing to say little at this point, still holding out hope that the two boards can work together to bring the projects to fruition.

"The action taken was not what we expected at the meeting," he said. "However, the Board of Education will proceed forward in accordance with the mission that was approved."

He said at Friday's meeting, efforts will be made to initiate next steps toward the design/build model.

"It's my hope that we will not lose ground and be able to build both middle schools as quickly as possible," he said. "The communities need these facilities and the students and parents are eager to get started."