December 13, 2017 11:02:46 AM
The Starkville Oktibbeha Board of Trustees on Tuesday accepted a bid from West Brothers Construction to build the SOCSD/MSU Partnership School, although board members are still skeptical of the final project costs.
After working with project architect Bruce Wood and the Columbus-based construction company, the board accepted a bid that was $582,970 less than the $26,302,000 base bid trustees did not accept at their November meeting. The original bid was roughly 1 percent higher than the architect's project estimate and does not include furniture/equipment at the school or $2 million already awarded to complete dirt work at the site.
With the accepted bid, the total project cost will be $29,908,401, which is still higher than the original $27.5 million project cost.
By accepting the amended bid, Trustee Melissa Luckett questioned whether the board would have to move forward "hoping" they would have the amount of money needed to fund the project. However, had the board decided to decline the bid again, it would delay the project further.
To lower construction costs, Superintendent Eddie Peasant said, the majority of changes come from using different, less-expensive materials, which would not damage the overall integrity of the project. For example, on an ornamental railing, a perforated metal panel will be used instead of steel, and manual blinds will be used instead of automatic ones.
With $10 million in bonds from the Mississippi Legislature, and the Mississippi State University Foundation committed to providing $5 million in funding, SOCSD is left to fund nearly $15 million of the project cost. MSU also has dedicated $5 million in land for the project.
SOCSD has $16 million in bonds available to use. However, with the district having to fund nearly $15 million, it leaves little funding left for other projects or possible repairs a school could need in the future.
"I mean, if you're looking at money on our side, we're almost maxed out," Board Vice President Lee Brand said. "If we were to front that entire 16, we have no money to do other repairs at other buildings. There would be nothing in the pot."
Board President Keith Cole added that, realistically, any other projects the district wanted to pursue in the near future would get put on the back-burner or not happen at all.
Peasant, who recently met with Devon Brenner, MSU's assistant to the vice president for education initiatives, said the Foundation has only raised $3 million to this point, and its members are still exploring other options and potential donors for the project in order to reach the $5 million commitment.
"When I met with Dr. Brenner, I told her, and she understood, that the $2 million they are short of right now is very valuable for us," Peasant said.
Assistant superintendent hired
In other business, trustees hired Anna Guntharp as the assistant superintendent for federal programs and student support services.
She will replace Toriano Holloway, who leaves this month to take the superintendent job at Quitman.
Peasant said Guntharp was one of five candidates interviewed for the post, and one of three with direct experience with federal education programs.
After evaluating the district's strengths and weaknesses, Peasant said he thought it would be best to amend the job descriptions and duties for the three assistant superintendent positions.
With SOCSD implementing a preschool program in the district next year, Peasant said it would add a large amount of additional responsibilities for Holloway's replacement. Therefore, when Guntharp begins her new role at SOCSD, she will oversee federal programs, including preschool and special education, and student support services. She will not oversee district operations, including transportation and maintenance, like Holloway did during his tenure.
District operations will now be a part of David Baggett's responsibilities as assistant superintendent of personnel and secondary curriculum.
Guntharp is currently serving as assistant superintendent in the Tupelo Public School District. Before taking over as assistant superintendent at TPSD in July 2015, she served as the district's director of federal programs and curriculum.
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