Superintendent Robert Sparkman opened the meeting by introducing Bill McReynolds of Hoar Program Management who — along with Rick Lathen and Lee Bryant of Lathen Associates, the lead architects, and Jay Kirkpatrick, also with Hoar — showed comparisons among Hartselle High School, Hueytown High School and the future Walker High School.
“We’ll try to lend a hand in understanding the differences in the schools, understanding and maybe getting everybody up to speed as a group on what’s in the Walker program and how it differs from the other schools so that you can understand the magnitude of the project,” McReynolds said.
There are nine phases, McReynolds stated, in a typical high school project. Where they stand now is at the end of phase three going into phase four. Verifying the funding is what’s keeping the project from moving into the next phase.
According to the comparisons of main school building costs only, the adjusted school cost for the three schools is about a $3 million difference: Hartselle standing at $40,719,486; Hueytown with $40,970,319; and Walker with $43,547,403. However, the items listed in the comparison were included with Walker’s price number while they were not included in the price of the other two schools.
Base square footage per student amounted to 213 for Hartselle, 237 for Hueytown and 256 for Walker. Closing out the presentation of comparisons, McReynolds said the total estimates in cost for Walker include: $43 million for total school costs, $9.9 million for total athletic costs, $1.8 million for total design allowance for Hoar Management, and $74 million for the total project costs.
“Again, we are early in design. Those numbers are going to drift, but that’s still a substantial difference,” McReynolds said.
Starting a round of questions, opinions and statements to be made by city council members and the superintendent, council member Danny Gambrell made the suggestion of getting a figure to be able to work with.
“Y’all need a figure. I mean, that’s basically what it amounts to. You need a figure to work with. Looking at what’s presented up there tonight, which you’ve done in excellent form by the way and it’s very interesting, shouldn’t be our responsibility or problem,” Gambrell said. “Our problem is what can the city give or contribute to the school project, a figure? The only way we can figure that out, regardless of what’s presented to us tonight, is to understand how we’re going to be able to operate our budget, and what we can give and still maintain and operate the budget that we have to come up with. We’ve got to come up with a figure.
“Once we come up with a figure ... y’all can go [get started]. That’s what you need is a figure,” he continued. “The question is what figure can the city afford to do?”
“It can’t be $74, or $64 million,” Jennifer Williams Smith interjected. “... On our contract [letter of understanding] it even says $50 to $60 million, we knew going into that that we couldn’t even go over $60.”
Sparkman said the 1 cent sales tax should finance around $67 million right now. He reemphasized that the projected $74 million is an estimate “with a lot of contingency” and that when the bids for the project go out, that number should come down a bit.
The city’s underwriter Matt Adams gave both the council and the board four different scenarios on what the city can afford through a 30-year loan that would still leave some “wiggle room” if they ever experience a crunch with funding problems. Council members were concerned about the Alabama Transportation Rehabilitation and Improvement Program funds, which relates to improvements with roads and bridges throughout the state.
Scenario one has the city providing $50 million for the financing of the new WHS, scenario two would provide $54 million, scenario three would provide $55 million, and scenario four would provide $60 million.
Jasper City Clerk Kathy Chambless said the city had a $20,000 fund balance at the beginning of the fiscal year Oct. 1, 2012, in its general fund.
“Had this council not have come in and passed that 1 cent sales tax, we would have been forced to have layoffs, cut programs, in order to have met our obligations. This is why we are all over here struggling. We all want to build a school,” Chambless said. “... The problem is how can we keep the financial strength of the city, because we fund other things in the school and have other programs and other agencies that depend on the city. How can we provide for all of those programs and activities and still build the school?”
It was asked if the school system could fund $5 million toward the cost of the new school. To which the city schools’ chief school financial officer Monique Rector said, “The bulk of funding is also sales tax, and we’ve dropped for the last few years as well. We’re the fourth lowest city system in the state for ad valorem funding. So, we’re looking at sales tax to survive as well. I submitted our 2014 budget today, and we’re projecting a $1.4 million shortage.”
Sparkman closed the joint meeting by asking the council to deliberate and come up with a budget to give to the city board of education so they can give further direction to the architects and project managers.
After the meeting, Mayor Sonny Posey summarized the work session by saying, “We’re looking at the overall operation of the city from four different angles, starting if we build a $50 million school, a $54 million school, a $55 million school and a $60 million school.”