Auditorium returns to the AES discussion

Published 5:20 pm Friday, December 27, 2019

AHOSKIE – While the effort to build a new Ahoskie Elementary School is a done deal, a plan to add a 350-seat auditorium to that construction project still remains a possibility.

For over an hour here Monday evening, members of the Hertford County Board of Commissioners and Board of Education discussed the overall construction project at a special called joint meeting. That discussion eventually turned to adding the auditorium to the project, but not before the air was clear over what the actual cost is of building the new school without an auditorium.

As reported earlier by this newspaper, the commissioners, at their Dec. 16 meeting, agreed to spending $20 million for the project. Of that amount, $15 million is through a state grant with the remainder to be borrowed by the county.

The construction bids for the project were opened Dec. 10. A.R. Chesson Construction of Williamston submitted the lowest bid at $15,521,375.

Hertford County Schools Superintendent Dr. William Wright stated that with the architect’s fees coupled with other costs – to include fixtures, furniture, equipment, etc. – the grand total is $17,056,000.

“That leaves us $2,944,000,” said School Board Chairman David Shields,” referencing the difference between the grand total and the $20 million committed to the project. “The board of education has always hoped that we would be able to add an auditorium to this project. That’s still our hope, but it’s not included in the [grand total] of this 17 million. Even with the 2.9 million left over we’re roughly one million short for us to get the auditorium.

“What we really need is to meet with the architect,” said Commissioner Leroy Douglas. “We keep seeing different numbers….it started off at 14.8 million, then 15 million, now 17 million. According to our county manager, we’re already at 20 million for this project. We need to find out what the true numbers are.”

Regarding the $20 million figure provided by Interim Hertford County Manager David Cotton – as noted at the Dec. 16 regularly scheduled meeting of the commissioners – Douglas said that amount included some “safety net” figures, such as higher amounts ($1.12 million) for fixtures, furniture, equipment and technology; $1.1 million in contingency fees (to help meet any unforeseen cost overruns); and $255,000 in administrative costs (hiring a financial advisor as well as legal fees, etc.).

Shields said the $17,056,000 total as provided by the project’s architect was “firm for the next 60 days. That bid includes everything, and it was figured and finalized on Dec. 10.”

“It includes all the administrative soft costs, such as the $939,000 for the architect; furniture and equipment at $475,000; technology allowance is $120,000. That’s how we arrived at the $17 million figure,” explained Dr. Wright.

 

“Ya’ll do know what you’re getting, furniture wise, right,” asked Douglas.

“Yes, they made a presentation before the [school] board,” answered Board of Education member Dennis Deloatch.

“As far as you know, nothing can change this 17 million number for us,” Douglas inquired.

“As far as we know,” Dr. Wright replied.

“The numbers given to us by the county manager included a contingency of about 1.1 million dollars,” noted Commissioner Andre Lassiter. “I think that’s the biggest difference in our numbers and your numbers, plus our budget has a higher cost for the furniture and fixings.”

“If nothing is going to change their [school board] numbers at a little over 17 million, there’s no need to have a line item for contingency, but are we prepared if something does go wrong with these costs,” stressed Douglas.

“If this is a fixed contract from the architect, then nothing is going to change,” Lassiter observed.

“That’s what I’m saying, that’s their agreement…if anything changes then it’s not on us,” Douglas stated. “I still don’t trust these [architect] numbers….they’ve already changed more than once, and now the architect is giving you a price on an auditorium.”

Board of Commissioners Chairman Ronald Gatling said the budget ordinance approved on Dec. 16 was done so in an effort to ensure there was enough money in the entire project to build the school.

“We have a $20 million project ordinance because whenever you have a big construction project like this there will some added costs,” Gatling remarked. “We have to have all the funding in place, figures we will carry to the LGC (Local Government Commission) next month for final approval.”

“Will these costs go up; I can’t promise that,” stated Shields. “It did at the outset, starting out at $14.8 million and now we’re at over $17 million and that upset me just like it does you, Mr. Douglas. All I know for sure right now is that we have a firm bid of $17,056,000 and that includes all the furniture, fixings, architect fees and the like. I trust this bid. This is a turn-key deal.”

The discussion then turned to adding a 350-seat auditorium to the project. That issue was discussed earlier this year, and was among one of the three options submitted by the architect, but was shot down due to the costs. But that was before the county learned in November they had been awarded a $15 million grant from the state’s Needs-Based Public School Capital Fund. Coupled with the $5 million required as a matching grant from the county, which they will borrow per the LGC’s approval, it’s hopeful to begin actual construction of the new school sometimes in the early spring of 2020. If that schedule is maintained, county officials are looking at opening the new Ahoskie Elementary School in August 2021.

The architect’s proposal for to add an auditorium to the AES project is estimated at $3,520,000.

“What happens if we commit to borrowing more than $5 million to cover the costs of this auditorium and then the architect comes back and adds two million to that project,” Douglas asked.

“We’re looking to close on our $5 million loan, per the LGC’s approval, on Feb. 16,” noted Lassiter. “Our funding is in place at this point. Per the $17,056,000 total price for the school as given to us by the school board, we’ll have $2,944,000 left over from the $20 million we’ve approved for this project’s budget. For another one million dollars, you’re saying we can build this auditorium?”

“Yes sir,” answered Dr. Wright.

“The question to us from the school board is are we willing to commit to borrowing one million dollars more to build an auditorium with the overall construction project,” said Lassiter. “If so, then we’re looking at borrowing six million rather than five million.”

In an effort to promote the auditorium, School Board Vice Chairman J. Wendell Hall said it’s a win-win for all involved.

“Our children need to come first and this auditorium is just another teaching tool,” Hall noted. “There’s nothing more important than offering the very best for the students of our county. Please help us with this request for a million dollars.”

Douglas said he supported the auditorium, but wanted some assurances that its price tag would not be more than the estimated $3.52 million.

“I can promise you this, if that price is higher, we will not build it,” said Shields. “I will not come back to you for any additional money.”

Gatling said he would meet with the interim county manager and the county’s financial advisor on the school project concerning the board of education’s request to add $1 million to the county’s loan for the purpose of adding the auditorium to the construction project.

“We will have you an answer to your request very soon,” Gatling said as the meeting ended.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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