At its meeting on Sept. 24, the Board of Supervisors debated how best to move forward with the project to install air conditioning systems in all the public schools, given that only one company had bid on the project and it was nearly twice the Board’s allotted budget.

The Board of Supervisors has approved $3.1 million for the HVAC project, an amount intended to fund A/C installation at all of the county’s schools. Despite efforts to attract a large pool of bidders, only one company submitted a bid to perform the work, and came in well over budget.

According to District Superintendent Dr. John Wheeler, “Just because of the way the market is, and that kind of construction business,” high bids will result. At the Supervisors meeting, Chairman Lauren Yoder laid out three potential paths forward: negotiating with the bidder to bring the cost down, spreading the allotted money across the schools (only installing A/C systems in certain classrooms), or borrowing more money.

None of the supervisors present seemed amenable to the third option. Courthouse District Supervisor Jerry Boothe pointed out that allocating any more funding for the HVAC project could potentially raise taxes locally or put the Board of Supervisors in a precarious financial situation in the future. “People expect this board to be fiscally responsible with their tax dollars, and part of that is looking down the road,” Boothe said.

Chairman Yoder echoed the sentiment. “We’ve spent a lot of time figuring out how much we can afford to support our schools—the School Board is going to have to prioritize,” Yoder said. “I’m not prepared to commit to (anything else)…it puts too much financial stress on local people and ties the hands of future boards,” he said.

In the view of Boothe, the responsibility to make decisions about how allotted funding is spent lies with school board members. “I can’t tell them what their priority is, I didn’t run for school board,” Boothe said.

The superintendent said conversations about prioritizing certain schools or classrooms are premature, however. “As soon as (County Administrator Terri Morris) contacted me after the Board of Supervisors meeting, I was in touch with Thompson & Litton,” Wheeler said. “I am meeting with them tomorrow, and then they are going to possibly come to the school board meeting in October.” Thompson & Litton is the architecture and engineering firm overseeing the project.

Wheeler said the firm “knows the bottom dollar, how much we have,” and is currently “in the process of looking at all our options,” including ways to bring down the price of the bid. Wheeler emphasized that currently, “the priority is still getting A/C in every classroom…We’ll look at every (option) and hopefully one of those options will be right around the mark that we have to spend.”

Asked whether he was concerned that funding the HVAC project could interfere with the School Board’s $14.5 million budget for the county’s Collaboration and Career Development Center, Wheeler said, “I don’t think so.” He continued, “We’re not far enough along with (the center) to have that concern…We know that we have $14.5 million to spend, and that’s what we’re going to spend. We’re going to get all the things that these students need for now, and for 20 years from now.” The School Board will further discuss the HVAC project at its next meeting, which is scheduled for Oct. 14 at 5 p.m.

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