The board approved the $20 million rebuild of Wheeler High School, 6-0, despite the project being over budget by approximately $3.5 million. Board member Kathleen Angelucci was absent due to a family emergency.
Construction on the nearly 50-year-old school in east Cobb will begin almost immediately in the shadow of the present school off Holt Road and should be completed by July 2014.
The school board also unanimously approved a $567,000 contract with Atlanta-based Sprint/Actsoft for software to track bus drivers’ speeds and locations and allow two-way communication. The board also awarded a $1.2 million contract to Cablik Enterprises out of Atlanta for renovations at Pitts Transportation Department on South Cobb Drive in a 5-1 vote, with Tim Stultz dissenting.
Norcross-based Hogan Construction Group will build a two-story school building and an auxiliary gym, as well as complete a telecommunications building.
Board chair Alison Bartlett lamented that the district would not be able to do everything originally proposed for the school’s revamp.
“I understand the whole background of this,” she said. “I feel that in April, when the board met and talked about beginning construction and demo work, when the board made the commitment to do that, we were told that this project would come under budget and come within the budget guidelines … I’m always concerned with SPLOST because we always may not have enough money in this current economic climate.
“The revisions to the contract, to the scope of work of Wheeler, for me it’s sad because there’s some work that we do recognize that we need to do at Wheeler that we’re not going to be able to do. Even in our negotiation, we’ve had to compromise on the original perspective of the Wheeler community to get it within the $20 million.”
Projects that won’t be completed include a culinary arts building, horticulture facilities, a black box theater and a bus canopy.
Lynnda Eagle, who represents northwest Cobb, said, “It is unfortunate that we are over budget, but … this school really is in need of what we have to do, plus, and I think that you’ve been able to, with the help of those that work with you, come to somewhat of a compromise. I’m very excited about the opportunity of the Wheeler community.”
Scott Sweeney, whose district Wheeler falls in, said he is in full support of the project, but asked SPLOST administrator Doug Shepard if there was anything that he and the staff learned about the scope of this project.
Shepard said the usual construction process was reversed for Wheeler.
“This project is unique in that, typically what we do when we approach a project, we start with the scope of work in mind and we tailor a budget to fit that,” Shepard said. “Wheeler was actually turned on its head, due to multiple funding sources, and a desire to look past just the simple renovation and do the right thing and do a true replacement. So, what we did was effectively work with the budget. The funds were approved, as is, and do the best that we could to really make what we do fit within that budget. So, that’s really what is different about this project. I don’t feel that this is going to be a theme going through with the rest of SPLOST because SPLOST as a whole is project-based first, budget second. Budget follows good work.”
Superintendent Dr. Michael Hinojosa commended the Wheeler community and Cobb staff for their patience and hard work on the reconstruction project.
“We want to be fiscally responsible,” he said. “We want to stay without our budget. I do want to note overall, our SPLOST budget is doing well … There’s some things that still won’t get done, despite everyone working together on this. We’ll have to look at this in the future.”
Stultz suggested the district not give up on the Wheeler projects.
“I think that every effort should be made to try and find private money, to try and get these projects under way such as the horticulture and the black box (theater),” said Stultz, who represents southwest Cobb.
Stultz asked if the board’s $567,190.40 contract with Sprint/Actsoft for software to track school bus drivers’ location and speeds was an additional or a replacement cost.
“There are no additional costs, and it’s within budget,” said Chris Ragsdale, the district’s chief technology officer.
Bartlett asked what happened to the previous contract with Edulog out of Montana, which the board approved 5-1, with Angelucci dissenting, on Jan. 27. The contract was for $631,373 and approximately $100,000 more than the 2010 contract.
“We paid them along the way for monthly utilization, but to my knowledge, we didn’t pay close to the full amount or half the amount,” said Ragsdale, adding that the contract was terminated effective June 30.
Bartlett did ask Ragsdale to e provide history of purchases like the software to her and fellow board members in the future .
“I think that would be helpful to other board members,” she said. “I felt at first, we were spending more than we should, but when I ran the numbers, that was not true.”
In other board business, Stultz was the sole dissenter in a vote to award a $1.3 million contract for renovations and additions at Pitts Transportation Department on South Cobb Drive. The project is approximately $121,000 over budget.
“I don’t oppose the project, I oppose the timing of the project,” Stultz said after the meeting.
The modifications were part of the SPLOST III Acceleration Project list. Stultz said board members were told projects on this list should see savings.
The board also unanimously approved Dr. Hinojosa’s goals and implementation plan, in which he named Deputy Superintendent Alice Stouder, Records Analyst Dr. Judy Jones and Chief Financial Officer Mike Addison his “quarterbacks” to instill the three goals of closing the achievement gaps for different student groups, developing a current and three-year fiscal budget and developing programs for alternate career paths for students who do not plan to pursue college after graduation.
“This is in good hands with these three quarterbacks who will structure this plan,” said Hinojosa, who said he will update board members monthly.
The board unanimously approved a $3.4 million contract, which was 10 percent under budget, with A.M. Adams Building Corporation out of Lilburn to make additions to Sope Creek Elementary School. Construction should be completed no later than July 2012.