Budget cuts dictated for AME school plans
"It's time to fish or cut bait," Manatee County Superintendent Roger Dearing directed Anna Maria Elementary School's construction project team last week. "The process is taking too long. It's time to move."
Dearing attended the project team's weekly meeting to find out why the proposed construction plans are running over budget, and why the team has been unable to bring the project back to the $5.9 million budget mark.
Team members have been struggling with pinpointing significant budget cuts that all team members can agree upon for almost a month. Time is not on the team's side, since the final design documents need to be completed by Nov. 15.
In light of the fact that budget-reduction discussions have failed to bring the project to budget, W.G. Mills contractor Tom Sidgmore, Manatee County School District project team coordinator Larry Roemer, and Education Design Associates Architect Tom Cardinal have agreed to create a final list of cuts by Oct. 30.
Sidgmore told the project team that all items previously discussed will be on the list, in addition to some new items, regardless of whether or not these items were previously vetoed by a team member. At the next meeting, the final list will be presented to team members and, according to Sidgmore, it will not be open for discussion.
The goal is to get the project back to $5.9 million without compromising the educational needs of the students, said Sidgmore. "I've been directed to make a plan and I have to dig deeper into the list to find a way to get to $5.9."
Once the list is set by Sidgmore, Cardinal and Roemer, the project team will be allowed to prioritize items they'd like to see reintroduced into the budget if money becomes available.
This means cuts previously vetoed by community representative Maria Facheris, such as reducing the length of the roof overhang and extending the cafeteria's flat roof over the art and music rooms, will be back on the table.
Roemer reiterated that the team wants to build the school in the smartest, most economical way possible.
AME Principal Kathy Hayes seemed to be on board, stating that the team should be careful to not let one voice overshadow what the community at large wants.
Concerned about the cost of commitments to the community, Dearing requested a breakdown on the cost of items promised above and beyond the $5.9 million construction budget.
Dearing was told the Bahama shutters would cost about $67,000, the metal roof is $300,000 and the landscaping enhancements are $65,000. Dearing was surprised to learn that these items totaled $650,000, which is $150,000 more than he was led to believe the cost would be just a week and a half ago.
Dearing said he would have a difficult time getting school board members to agree to commit to an additional $500,000 to AME's construction budget and strongly suggested they find a way to shave off $150,000 from the promised items.
Dearing said the school sales tax committee is already "irate" that AME is spending 20 percent more per square foot than any other school in the county.
"If we take away the promised items," Dearing asked, "was the building over designed?"
Sidgmore tried to explain that the extra expense in the promised items is due to the amount of fill needed to raise the property elevation and grade the site. The project calls for $250,00 in fill material. "It's unbelievable," said Sidgmore.
"$250,000 in fill? That's a damn lot of fill," said Dearing.
Team members explained there is an added cost to put retaining walls and tree wells in the south oak hammock.
Roemer said if you don't fill up to the building the school will have ramps and walkways creating an effect of a bridge over a moat.
Cardinal said he understood the community didn't like the ramps and stairs leading to the building and the current design has been based on mandates by the community.
"So, to save the south oak hammock, we're spending more on trees than we are on kids?" Dearing asked.
"We've had quite a challenge with the community outcry," noted Sidgmore. "Now it's not fair to back-pedal and ask why it's designed this way and we're over budget. It's not a bad design, it's just very expensive."
"The community has always driven this design," added Cardinal. "The landscape is designed beautifully, but it's like a public park based on the direction of the public meeting."
Dearing said the question is, if the school is required to be raised 5 feet, what other methods are there to get from the parking lot to the school without bringing in fill? "Just because you don't want ramps and stairways doesn't justify $250,000 in fill," he said.
The team also noted that the auditorium cost is running up the budget and takes up an extra 2,100 square feet in space. The school is being designed for 360 students and the auditorium is presently designed for 264 seats.
"How do you justify building an auditorium with a capacity well over one-third the student body?" Dearing asked.
Dearing said high school auditoriums are only built for one-third the capacity of the school's student body. "If you take this forward to the school board you will have to let them hear the cost of the school and the cost of the auditorium and see if they want to swallow that politically."
Roemer noted that the team has been faced with many unique criteria on this project, including the smaller student body, the flood-zone codes, the phasing and demolition criteria given by the community, the auditorium requested by school board member/Island representative Harry Kinnan, and so on.
"I know we want them to have an auditorium," Dearing said, "but when it gets down to it, there is only $365 million in the school board construction budget. Whatever your cost overrun is here I have to take away elsewhere. How do I explain to those schools they can't have what they need?"
Sidgmore, Roemer and Cardinal agreed to consider reducing the need for fill, scaling back the auditorium, scaling back the landscaping and items included in the Dearing "promise" by $150,000 to get back to the $5.9 million construction budget plus the $500,000 "promise" budget.
As of last week, Sidgmore told Dearing the team had been able to reduce the budget within $200,000 of its goal.