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HC adds $1 million to AES project

WINTON – After months of debate, chances are good that an auditorium will be added to the Ahoskie Elementary School (AES) project.

The lone hiccup is the cost of adding a 350-seat auditorium to the already approved new construction project.

Following a closed session at their Jan. 21 meeting, the Hertford County Board of Commissioners, on a motion and second respectively from Andre Lassiter and Leroy Douglas, unanimously approved allocating an additional one million dollars for the new AES project in an effort to add the auditorium.

The motion further stipulated that the overall project cannot exceed $21 million. Prior to Tuesday’s board meeting, the project has $20 million in committed funds: a $15 million grant from the state’s Needs-Based Public School Capital Fund and a $5 million loan, approved by the Commissioners, from BB&T. The latter still needs the approval of the Local Government Commission when they meet early next month.

Interim Hertford County Manager David Cotton said the added $1 million would be taken from the county’s unassigned fund balance.

“Our approval of the motion on Tuesday night makes it very clear that we are committed to a grand total of $21 million for this project….building the school with an auditorium,” said Ronald Gatling, chairman of the board of commissioners. “The auditorium was a request from our board of education members, and the action we took on Tuesday granted that request.

“But I need to be very clear in saying that we agreed to the extra one million (dollars), and not one penny more than that,” Gatling continued. “It’s possible that we can build the school with an auditorium for the $20 million we’ve already committed to this project. What we don’t know at this point is the actual cost of adding the auditorium. We will not know that until the project’s architect gives us a number and then we have to see if the construction bids come close to matching that number.”

Gatling added, “We’re committed to building a new Ahoskie Elementary School and have approved a construction bid to do so. If adding the auditorium can be accomplished for a total cost of $21 million or less, then we will have the auditorium. If it’s more than that, then the auditorium will be removed from the project.”

David Shields, Chairman of the Hertford County Board of Education, expressed appreciation, on behalf of his colleagues, to the commissioners for finding the additional funds needed to build the auditorium.

“The way this project has been handled by the commissioners proves that when we work together, the entire county benefits,” Shields stated. “We are very appreciative of our commissioners for stepping up to the plate and finding this added money which will complete the total vision we have for the new Ahoskie Elementary School.

“When you add in the fact that we will be able to build a first-class educational facility with an auditorium for only six million of our taxpayer dollars, that’s a bargain any way you look at it,” Shields added. “Not only will adding the auditorium result in our students receiving more of a well-rounded education through theatre arts, the public can use this facility as well, making it a win-win all the way around.”

At a Dec. 23 joint meeting of the Hertford County Commissioners and Board of Education, it was noted that construction bids for the AES project (the school building only) 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 at the Dec. 23 joint meeting that the architect’s fees coupled with other costs – to include fixtures, furniture, equipment, etc. – brings the project’s grand total to $17,056,000.

“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.

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

“That leaves us $2,944,000,” said Shields at the Dec. 23 meeting, referencing the difference between the grand total and the $20 million committed at that particular time 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.”

Now with the added funding from the county, the auditorium component to the overall AES project has been realized.

Once all the legalities of the project are finalized, it is hopeful that construction can begin this spring with an anticipated opening date of the new school/auditorium in August 2021.

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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