With three members of the general public, a couple of school district administrators and a reporter present the Mineola School Board voted unanimously last Tuesday in a special meeting to call a second bond election this year in November .
In March a $41 million bond was defeated by school district voters by a 79-vote margin.
Kevin Smith with Claycomb and Associates architects explained to the board the facility construction process and a timeline. Superintendent Kim Tunnell said she believed those things would be “important to communicate” and to counter some misconceptions the district and board had heard from voters.
Smith came with a visual display of the types of buildings that the firm has built or renovated for various schools. He talking about the design stage and said “It’s an interactive process. You notice on this board you won’t see two projects that are too much alike.”
“What we will do is work to design your project. Where your input comes together with our experience is what your project is. It won’t be like any other thing we’ve done before.” Smith said that the bonds would be sold as quickly as possible “the quicker we can get plans to the bid market, the faster, the better price you’re going to get. That’s really important.”
Smith advised that the board would determine the delivery method, whether it’s sealed proposals, or construction manager at risk, or a general contract. “I can tell you that probably 90 percent, that’s a guess, 90 percent of all construction for school work is construction manager at risk.” He said that is basically like interviewing and selecting a general contraction and finding their qualifications. The construction manager at risk would work as part of the team.
Smith noted that one thing the district gains from using the construction manager at risk is, after all of the bids are received and verified, and reviewed by the district, the district will receive the list of the best bidders. They would get him to do a job fair to allow the local contractors to have as a shot at obtaining some of the work. “That’s important,” he said. “I would guess that 95 percent of your contractors who would work on this would be from the East Texas area.”
The architect said “along with that you will get a guaranteed maximum price” on every aspect at the bid time. Construction would begin next summer on the new high school and “you could conceivably” move in by the end of the next year, or the beginning of 2019. He said that is a possibly and then the other renovations and expansions on other projects could be wrapped up by 2020.
Tunnell pointed out by doing it all together during the renovation of the high school and middle schools could all be done together and they could be bid out as a package together.
Smith said the education code states there will be a 1 to 2 percent contingency on both the contractor’s and the owner’s sides. He also said that the decisions on the project would be done in public for transparency.
“In previous meetings we’ve had I think we’re all on the same page as far as which direction we need to go,” Board President Regan Brandon said. He noted that Tunnell emailed information the previous week on the range of amounts for the bond and how they would affect the tax rate, from $35 million to $39,500,000. He said that it included square footage and some options involving that.
He asked the board to begin discussing the range of the amount. Board Member Holly Mischnick said she put Tunnell’s figures on a spread sheet and looked at how the amount would affect the overall project with the $3.5 million from reserves the district plans to use.
Dr. John Abbott said he wouldn’t be for going below the amount that is needed “to where we start cutting the square footage and the auditorium. That’s like buying a new car and saying `do I really need tinted windows.’ I’m not for that. I feel like we need to do a better job in selling what we’re asking for.”
That sentiment was echoed by Mischnick as well as Board Member Kellam Newell. “With all the committees meeting” and the men from the architectural firm speaking to the board, they knew “that is pretty much what we needed. Now it is a wakeup call and this is why we really need this.”
Board Member Jill Quiambao recounted an encounter with a person that day who had said he hadn’t heard anything about the previous bond election and didn’t know anything about the fact he was supposed to vote and asking if it had been in the paper.
“We’ve come off of what we’ve asked for in the beginning,” Mischnick said, after stating she agreed with Abbott about the lower bond amount.
Brandon asked about what if the district sold its property on the loop. Abbott said that he thought the board had discussed waiting on that. “I’m just trying to be sure we get over the hurdle to get the bond approved,” Brandon said.
He also asked about cutting down the number of seats in the auditorium by 200, which would have saved money, but not a significant amount on the tax rate. The board was also aware that other districts regretted not building their auditoriums bigger.
Tunnell noted that there is about three-quarters of a cent difference on the tax rate for every $500,000 that is borrowed.
At one point Brandon asked Board Member Carlist Brinkley, who had been quiet up until that point, his opinion. Brinkley said it looked like they were “chipping at” the plan “to make it fit. It’s not going to fit. Leave it like it is. In my opinion the bond is either going to pass or not pass. You’re not going to please everybody but you’ve got to get what we need and not come back again five, 10 years from now,” asking for another bond because they undersized the project.
Mischnick and Abbott agreed that by “picking and choosing” they were going to make either supporters of the auditorium or career technology classes angry.
Brandon asked Newell his thoughts and he replied, “I’m all for going for the whole shooting match again and it all depends on the representatives. What are we going to do?” He asked if they were going to represent the plan in a cohesive manner. “I understand we’re not going to please everybody. It’s impossible.”
“I will support it because it’s not for me. It’s for the kids and the community and that’s the ones it’s going to benefit in the long run,” Newell said.
Newell said he had talked with a man that day who had moved to van, and “They came to Van for the schools. So with this, I think the same thing would occur, and more.”
After more discussion, the firefighter on the board (Mischnick) spoke up making a motion that “we ask our community for a bond election of $38.5 million for the construction of a new high school inclusive of all the good things that a high school has, renovations to our (existing) high school and middle school and demolition of our elementary school.” Brinkley quickly made the second and the board voted unanimously in favor.
Afterward, Tunnell said the election would be on Nov. 7.
Brandon said after the meeting, “We have met and talked about it several times. The facility need has not gone away and we have to act as stewards of the school district. And we have decided that this is the best solution . We could do it a different way, but it would cost more money. So we’re all on board with the solution that we’ve presented and we’ve decided is best for the district. It will solve all our problems – most of our facilities issues.”
Anyone who has questions can contact the school, or the board members, whose email addresses are on the school district website. Board Member Kyle Gully was not present for the meeting.