Board OKs builder for AHS projects

Published 1:08 am Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Price tag will top $10M, final decisions expected soon

After more than a year of talking about potential designs for major renovations at Andalusia High School, working with a professional estimator and two bid processes, members of the city board of education finally got some firm numbers this week.

In October, the system received no bids for the combined projects, and since then, Superintendent Ted Watson and architect Chuck Jones have been interviewing contractors and negotiating prices. Of the four contractors invited to participate, Jones said, three showed.

Jones and Watson said either of the three could have done the work, but they recommended that the board hire locally-based Wyatt Sasser Construction.

“We asked for a dollar amount of the impact on the local economy,” Watson said. “That is about $5.8 million.”

Based on current negotiations, Jones said, Wyatt Sasser is willing to contract to do the base project for $9.39 million. There are 11 alternatives to the base bid – some of which are truly alternatives, others of which are being bid separately to save money – which would bring the total cost of the project to $12.24 million.

Among the extras the board will still have to decide is whether to move the field 30 feet closer to the bleachers on the home side, and whether or not to install synthetic turf.

If the project is to be completed in 2018, it is important to get started in January, Jones said, so that the stadium will be ready for football games in September. Jones encouraged board members to approve the base bid and consider the alternatives as possible change orders.

“We’ve put everything in there we could think of, and $12 million is the most it could ever be,” Jones said.

But board members needed more assurances about costs, and the possibility that unforeseen issues could drive those costs up.

In an almost-three-hour meeting, the board agreed to use Wyatt Sasser as the contractor, but wants more numbers on funding sources and other expected expenses over the next few years before giving the full go-ahead for the project.

The city has set aside a portion of sales tax proceeds designated for education each year, and the Public Education Building Authority has been raising private monies for the project. In addition, Rep. Mike Jones, R-Andalusia, has secured state money for the project.

At the time the decision is made, the city will approve an expected $7 million bond issue. To fund most of the project. The repayment of those funds will come from the education sales tax monies collected by the city.

Even with all of that in place, the board of education will have to fund an estimated $1.75 million, either by borrowing from its own reserves or with a short-term loan. At present, Watson said, the board has five months of operating expenses, or $5 million, in reserve.

Jones said it is important to get the contract approved, because the contractor cannot begin turning dirt until state officials sign off on the contract.

“If you told me tomorrow we were on go, it would take every bit of the three weeks we have left in December to get to a point to start in January,” Jones said.

Board Chairman Dr. David McCalman said he did not know the board would be asked to vote Monday night, and he did not come prepared to do so.

“I really had no idea we were coming to vote on a $12 million project tonight, with no more discussion than we’ve had,” he said. “We can stay tonight and work through this, or I can be up here every night this week.”

McCalman said he also would like board member David Bryant, who was absent, to be present for the vote.

Board members agreed they also would like to see an estimate of repayment costs based on current bond rates.

Board members authorized Jones to proceed with preparing the base construction contract, and asked Watson and chief financial officer Katie Odom to prepare more financial details.

A special meeting will likely be called later this week when those numbers are available.