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NASHVILLE — The Nash County Board of Commissioners and the Nash-Rocky Mount Board of Education were $622,000 apart Monday in how to go about building new schools.
Based on the publicly released agenda, the school board was expected Monday night to select a commercial project management firm, separate from the design and construction teams, to take the lead on school construction projects from beginning to end. The school system announced it intends to negotiate a fee with the selected firm and have contracts signed and the firm engaged no later than Jan. 1.
On Monday morning, however, Nash County commissioners voted unanimously to oppose hiring a project management firm and said they do not intend to pay for one.
County board Chairman Robbie Davis, who raised the issue at the end of an otherwise routine regular monthly meeting, said the expected costs of using a management firm would add a projected $622,000 to the planned costs of a previously budgeted $10 million elementary school construction somewhere in the Red Oak area.
“We all agree it’s not something we would not want to see because of the added cost,” he said.
Davis said he’d communicated the county’s objection to school officials, “but the school system moved onward to entertain proposals for a firm like that and have it on their agenda tonight to approve it.”
The traditional approach, he said, was for the school system to directly employ an architectural firm to design the school and then manage the construction on the county’s behalf. “Whereas, they want (there) to be a manager in front of that,” he said.
“I think they’re going to approve it. We have never handled it this way and the school system has never handled it this way,” said Commissioner Wayne Outlaw, citing 16 major projects since the 1990s, including Rocky Mount and Nash Central high schools.
“To spend $622,000 for a firm that is redundant to an architectural firm is money which is pretty much wasted,” Outlaw said. “We’re putting in a vast sum of money from the taxpayers for the project. They’ve just moved forward without any consideration of our request.”
Other commissioners echoed his disapproval.
“We have a small school system,” said Commissioner Fred Belfield. “We’re talking about one school. Do they have it ($622,000)? I expect they don’t. I don’t support it.”
“They want to take it out of capital funds they anticipate having,” Outlaw said.
“It’s a pattern over the years,” Belfield said. “They don’t know what they have.”
County Manager Zee Lamb said the school system was budgeted $1.4 million from the county for other capital improvements, but said, “They indicated that those funds are already committed and they would need additional funds from commissioners. I can only assume, if they approve the agenda item, it would be subject to funding.”
“I would be opposed to that because we have a history of building very fine buildings in Nash County and we have never used a project management group to manage the project. We have always used an architect. If we’ve been able to do this forever, it’s money we could use for other purposes.”
“I’m not confortable with it,” agreed Commissioner Lou Richardson.
“I would not support funding for a firm to come in and do what the architect is doing,” Outlaw insisted.
Davis asked the commissioners if the board “would support telling the school board they don’t want the extra help and will not fund it,” and commissioners voted unanimously in agreement.
Commissioners said later that if the school board insisted on hiring a project management firm, it would have to come up with the additional funds out of existing school funds already allocated for other spending.
In its request for qualifications from companies, the school system said, “The project management firm will act solely as Nash-Rocky Mount Public Schools’ representative and shall not be a member of the design or construction teams. The firm shall assign a Project Manager to work with the Nash-Rocky Mount Public Schools who will be the single point of contact throughout the term of the project(s)… The Project Manager shall provide leadership for the projects, beginning in the early stages of planning and continuing through team selection, design, construction and completion of the projects.”
The morning opposition from the commissioners did have an impact on the school board Monday night.
School board Chairman Franklin Lamm of Spring Hope said late Monday after the meeting that the school board delayed a decision until 6 p.m. Nov. 21 to hear the proposal from Cuming, the top candidate among first eight, then three management firms that submitted proposals.
Lamm said Cuming, from North and South Carolina, has built “a lot” of schools in 36 school districts. He said the company has a good reputation for cost-avoidance in building schools. He added that the $622,000 figure quoted in the morning was a maximum possible amount, based on a percentage of what is charged for the total project. The actual amount could end up lower if the management firm is able to achieve lower costs.
Lamm said the project management concept was proposed by the interim superintendent, Del Burns, a retired Wake County superintendent who has used it previously. Burns replaced Superintendent Shelton Jefferies in August.
“It’s new to everybody,” he said. “I’m not a contractor or an architect. Nobody on the school board is. When we take advice from a superintendent who’s done this so many different ways, we’d be foolish not to investigate the possibilities.”
He said the school system wants to close the aging Swift Creek, Cedar Grove and Red Oak elementary schools and replace the three schools with the new $10 million school in the same general area. He said a public hearing on the school closings will be held on at 6 p.m. Nov. 14 at Northern Nash High School.
Lamm said he hoped everybody, including county commissioners, would come and hear the Nov. 21 presentation on project management with an open mind.
“Nobody has signed any papers or anything,” he said. “It’s an open meeting. Anybody can come. We’re in education. We need to learn something new each day.”
Lamm declined to speculate on whether the school board could proceed with county commissioners’ help.
“We’ve got a good working relationship with our county commissioners,” he said. “I want to continue that route. I’ve always done what I thought was the best for the children and for the taxpayers of Nash County.”