New Bertie High School

Published 10:45 am Monday, May 14, 2012

WINDSOR – Bad news on the new Bertie High School did not stop the project from moving forward.

During a called meeting of the Bertie County Commissioners Thursday afternoon, the board voted 4-1 to apply for approval from the Local Government Commission for the authorization to proceed with issuing bonds to proceed with the building of the school.

Commissioner Rick Harrell voted against the measure and said he would not support moving forward until the school could be constructed for the $18 million the county has in Qualified School Construction Bonds.

The afternoon began with Jimmy Hite reporting the bids for new high school which came in slightly above $18 million. He said the lowest general contractor bid came from Wimco General Contractors of Washington with a base bid of $18,687,000. That will be combined with the bid from K.H. Smith for the technology package ($372,000) to provide an overall bid of $19,059,000 for the school.

Three alternate bids of four classrooms each were also bid. They came in with the first set at $604,300, the second $390,400 and the final set $388,500.

“Subsequent to receiving bids we met with the general contractor to discuss cost savings options,” Hite said.

The architect said there were approximately $600,000 in savings that could be realized, but the decision would be up to the commissioners and the Bertie County Board of Education.

He said the county’s fiscal representatives on the project – Davenport and Company – were given a $400,000 savings to work with on their reports. Hite added, however, that the project would require a $300,000 contingency as well.

Hite also reported that he had been asked by interim Bertie County Manager Morris Rascoe to find out what the savings would be for eliminating the auditorium and was told it was $1,675,000.

Harrell then asked for a bottom line figure on the new school.

Hite said if you had soft costs such as permits and design to the base bid it would be slightly less than $20 million. By subtracting the estimated $400,000 in savings and adding back $300,000 for furniture, the bottom line came to $20,169,121.

Commissioner Norman M. Cherry Sr. asked if the $300,000 contingency would actually be spent and Hite said he did not believe it would. He said the number was required for the project, but he didn’t think all of it would be used.

Harrell asked if the information had been presented to the school board or Superintendent of Schools Dr. Debbie Harris-Rollins and Hite said it had not.

“I can give you my position – and it’s just my position,” Harrell said. “You told us you could build a new high school for $18 million. We don’t have $19.6 million.”

The commissioner said he further felt it was important for the school board and Hite to sit down and make changes and come back to the commissioners with a school that could be built for $18 million.

“The rest of the board may feel differently, but that’s my position,” he said. “If you come back with $18 million, I’ll support it, but I don’t see how you can put $2 million more on the back of taxpayers.”

Bertie County Attorney Lloyd Smith said the higher bid that the county had hoped for was not the only problem that had presented itself with the project. He then reported that the county had not been able to get a buyer for the bonds for the project.

Staff members from Davenport and Company then discussed the possible options and financing of the new school. They presented scenarios that would require the county to raise taxes between 6.4 cents and 20.55 cents on the dollar.

The actual breakdowns of those scenarios will be available in a future edition of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald.

The main issue the board had to decide Thursday was whether or not to proceed with asking the LGC to approve whatever funding was needed for the new high school.

Davenport officials said the county needed to go before the Commission in June if they wished to take advantage of the bids before them. That meant the forms had to be submitted, they believed, no later than Monday.

“So it is go ahead with this today or we’re dead in the water,” asked Harrell.

He was told the county could simply go to the LGC with a high number and then reduce that number later. The county is also able to scrap the project altogether, even after LGC approval.

“If you take it to the LGC you’re not obligated to do anything,” Smith said.

Smith said if the county moved forward with the project it is possible they could have to make a decision on implementing a “fairly significant” tax increase in the next few weeks.

Cherry said the problem with going back and starting over was that construction prices would continue to rise.

He also said he had been an advocate of the auditorium, but felt it was a place that could be eliminated.

“I’m not in the school design business,” Harrell said. “”They (the school board) ought to say we have $18 million and this is what we need. Our job is to say we have $18 million and that is what we have.”

Turning to school board chair Gloria Lee, who attended the meeting along with Vice Chair Emma Johnson, Harrell continued, “We’re willing to put $18 million out there. We can’t decide the changes, only you can.”

Commission Chairman L.C. Hoggard III asked if Lee felt the board could move quickly to work with Hite and get to $18 million.

Lee said she felt it was important for the school board to discuss the matter and that she would call a special meeting quickly. That meeting has since been slated for 6 p.m. Monday.

Commissioner J. Wallace Perry said since the county was not obligated to go forward with the project or could reduce the amount it requested to be approved, but needed LGC approval, he wanted to move forward with the application. He made a motion to approve a resolution to the Local Government Commission asking to approve the borrowing of $22.5 million as a maximum for a new school. Cherry offered a second and it passed on a 4-1 vote.