Major school renovation project approved

Published: Sep. 23, 2021 at 6:56 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) - The Kanawha County School Board approved a major renovation project on Thursday morning, after first rejecting the same proposal during a meeting last week.

The $32 million project will improve the HVAC systems at 13 school buildings across the county. It will be paid for with ESSERF funding from the American Rescue Plan (ARP). The first part of the project includes design and engineering work to figure out exactly what needs to be done at each building.

The use of federal funds complicated the bidding process, with school board members expressing that they wanted to give the project to a local company instead of the Kentucky-based company that had the best bid. Board members Ryan White, Ric Cavender and Jim Crawford voted against the original proposal last week with President Becky Jordon and Tracy White supporting the top-ranking offer.

The original project was bid on by six architectural firms, and Lexington, Kentucky firm CMTA had the highest ranking bid. CMTA opened an office in the Charleston area after receiving other contracts from Kanawha County Schools, Cavender said, but a majority of the employees doing the work are still from outside the area.

However, Superintendent Tom Williams said rules around the use of federal money does not allow the school system to prioritize location when making a decision on design work. By rejecting the recommended bid, Kanawha County Schools would have been forced to reopen the bidding process and start over. Williams said that would have put the project in jeopardy because the ARP money needs to be used by June 2024.

“We can not give local preference to architectural work,” Williams said. “We can not do it. (This decision) has been signed off on by the attorney at the West Virginia Department of Education. We are not allowed to do it. Period.”

Ryan White also expressed his concern about the cost of the project. He was upset the other bidders were sent a letter saying their proposals were not selected before the School Board even met to consider the bids. This prevented the board members from seeing their costs and comparing it to the 7% rate that CMTA offered. That would cost the county around $2.2 million, which White said is twice as much as other counties pay for similar projects.

“Seven percent is the only quote we got, so we have no idea whether it would be more economical to go with three separate ones or not,” Ryan White said about if the projects should be offered to separate companies. “I think there is a good possibility based on the information that I have received we could get a lower rate and make it more economical. If the sole purpose of not separating it is because it’s more economical, I think that is inaccurate because I think we can get a better rate.”

“This was sent only to the six vendors that were not the highest scoring vendors for this project,” Purchasing Executive Director Alan Cummings said about the letters that were sent to the rejected bids. “The recommendation itself went before the board and we would not presumably assume that you are going to accept of deny this, but you should know at this time the selection process dictates that we are to award to the highest scoring vendor. You as a board are right, Mr. White you are correct, you can say yes or no. However, the motion is what it is, you either yes accept CMTA or you don’t. You can not go back at this time and select any one of the six that were reviewed by the evaluation committee.”

After hearing from a number of school system employees about their concerns with the bid being rejected by the school board, Crawford decided to change his mind and vote for the proposal. The renewed motion passed three to two and allowed the contract to be signed on Thursday morning.

“I personally think that our kids need these projects finished so that they will have a comfortable place to receive their education,” Crawford said.

“This is $30 million,” Ryan White said. “That’s why I thought it would have been best to get quotes from the other architecture firms, which the committee did say were qualified, to see if we could get a better rate for the taxpayers.”

Work will be done at Sharon Dawes Elementary, Ruthlawn Elementary, Elkview Middle, Sissonville Elementary, Chamberlain Elementary, South Charleston Middle, Pratt Elementary, Bridgeview Elementary, Shoals Elementary, Central Office, Montrose Elementary, Regulatory Training Center and Edison.

Williams said these sites were chosen because they currently have the worst HVAC systems after a number of other schools had HVAC replacements paid for under the last levy.

All work must be completed by June 2024, Williams said. The architectural work will begin immediately and the construction work will be put out for bid once that is completed.

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