Construction on the Starkville-Oktibbeha Consolidated School District Partnership School at Mississippi State University has been delayed again due to weather according to SOCSD Superintendent Eddie Peasant. State Rep. Rob Roberson, R-Starkville, indicated he thought funding issues were at play as well. The school is now projected to be complete in November. Photo by: Alex Holloway/Dispatch Staff
February 14, 2019 10:59:28 AM
More delays have pushed the completion of the Starkville-Oktibbeha Consolidated School District's Partnership School with Mississippi State University beyond a fall 2019 opening date.
How much these delays are due to weather or budgetary issues, though, remains unclear.
SOCSD Superintendent Eddie Peasant told The Dispatch on Tuesday that weather delays had pushed the project, which will be a campus for grades 6-7 at MSU, to the end of the year. That will keep students from starting school there in August as had been planned.
"It's not going to be complete until the end of this year, around November," Peasant said.
It's the second time weather has been blamed for delaying the estimated $30 million school, originally slated for completion in November 2018.
District 43 Rep. Rob Roberson (R-Starkville), in whose constituency MSU sits, said budget issues may also be delaying construction. He confirmed he is attempting to obtain extra funds for the project in legislative appropriations this session, but the school district has still not indicated to him exactly how much it needs.
He hopes to, at minimum, procure an additional $5 million for the project this year.
"I would love to (get that), but in all honesty, I have to dig in and find out exactly how much the budget overruns are," Roberson said. "But it's a possibility. I don't want to say it's 100 percent. There's other people asking for different things."
When reached by The Dispatch, Peasant denied there was validity to Roberson's concerns about funding.
"As I stated (Tuesday), the project is behind schedule due to weather," he said in a text to a Dispatch reporter Wednesday night.
The planned 123,000-square-foot building is funded by a local $16 million bond to be repaid by local property tax millage, a $10 million allocation from the Mississippi Legislature and cash and land donations by MSU. A portion of the local bond will also fund other district-wide capital improvements.
Once the Partnership School is complete, the campus will also host space for MSU's College of Education, where MSU students can observe classroom teaching and university faculty can be a resource for SOCSD teachers and administrators.
Late fee negotiations
Construction first ran into trouble in August 2017 when weather concerns, primarily Hurricane Harvey, drove up the cost of construction materials, causing an overall increase of about $2 million and resulting in the district revising its completion timeline from November 2018 to March of this year.
The original projected cost was $27.5 million. When SOCSD board accepted a bid from Columbus-based West Brothers Construction in December 2017, the full price became $29,908,401.
Due to constant delays, Cademy Construction, the contractor who performed the dirt-work for the school, has incurred fines from the district. Peasant said he was not sure how much money would be owed to the district. He also would not comment if SOCSD owed West Brothers Construction for the project delay. The legal situation is currently being handled out of court.
"That's still in the hands of the attorney," Peasant said. "That's something that's ongoing and I don't have any comment at this time."
School board attorney John Hill said SOCSD is not an active participant in the legal negotiations. Those are instead being handled by attorneys from West Brothers Construction, Cademy Construction and the architect Flowood-based JH&H, which handled the original designs, he said.
"We are kept up to date on discussions, but we are not engaged in the activity," Hill said. "We are hopeful the three of them can work through this."
Schools in limbo
Once the Partnership School is open, the district plans to convert Armstong Middle School (which now houses grades 6-8) to a campus for grades 8-9.
Freshmen now attend Starkville High School.
Current AMS Principal Julie Kennedy will lead the Partnership School, while Ra'mon Forbes, now an AMS assistant principal, will lead the new AMS.
Peasant confirmed both those administrators will remain in their current roles until the new school opens. However, he did not make clear, when asked, if SOCSD would open the Partnership School in August 2020 or if the district would try to transition students in January -- in the middle of the 2019-20 school year.
The superintendent did say construction, although off-pace, is pushing forward and the building's framework is nearly finished.
"We're still excited about it and we are continuing to prepare the faculty and staff for the transition into that building," he said. "We are working every day to prepare for the new school."
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