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Date of Issue: March 17, 2005

AME architects fired from King project

Manatee County School Board members voted 5-0 to terminate the contract with Educational Design Associates as the design firm for new construction at King Middle School.

The vote backed Superintendent Roger Dearing's recommendation to speed up construction plans by reusing an existing middle school design that could be conformed to King's campus.

Dearing cited several unforeseen delays in the project timeline as contributing factors supporting his recommendation.

Since EDA was hired more than a year ago to renovate the existing school, the school board learned structural problems required demolition of the old building and new construction.

Board member Walter Miller noted that the board amended its contract with EDA to proceed with new construction plans last year in December. "We're three months out and have no [design] plans," he said.

In January, EDA's principal architect, Tom Cardinal, suddenly died, leaving the rest of his firm to complete the project.

And in February, the scope of the project changed again when the school district purchased 6.7 acres adjacent to the existing campus, providing more flexibility in the layout of the new school.

In his defense, Richard Allen, vice president of EDA, said the firm has presented two design plans. The first was submitted last April, prior to the purchase of additional land.

Allen said the tight, compressed constraints of the original 18-acre lot dictated the design of an L-shaped building fitted around the footprint of the existing school.

Allen said a second design rendering was completed in February, which utilized the newly purchased land.

Dearing said he had been in contact with members of King's construction team and understood they wanted to move forward as rapidly as possible. He said he sensed the team's urgency.

"We're not meaning to create a negative working relationship with EDA," Dearing said. "We just want to get going."

King Middle School's Principal Terry Lux concurred with Dearing, stating that "speed is on my mind."

Miller stated he "got the impression" the working relationship had broken down, with no fault on either side. "I get the impression something clogged it up and I'm not sure if it's mendable," he said.

In severing ties with EDA and using a reuse plan, Dearing indicated that the team would save four to six months and it was too early to determine the financial impact. EDA is still entitled to all fees accrued up to the termination date of the contract.

"I feel like I'm on that show 'Survivor'" Allen told the board. "Y'all keep trying to kick me off the island." But Allen and his firm have not been kicked off Anna Maria Island.

Despite rumblings last summer from community members opposed to EDA's design renderings for Anna Maria Elementary School, and despite the fact Cardinal was the principal architect on the project, the firm still maintains its contract for new school construction on the Island campus.

When EDA presented its draft design plans to AME's School Advisory Committee in April 2003, construction was scheduled to begin in October 2003 with hopes to open the new school in January 2005.

AME's project was derailed when the pre-construction demolition team bulldozed 17 native live oak trees over the July 4, 2003, holiday.

The result of the community protest was a series of meetings held throughout the summer to unveil various design renderings and landscape plans to the public.

When some members of the community expressed dissatisfaction with EDA's design concept and asked to switch architects, Dearing said that working backward would not be an option.

"Since we have a complete set of plans and a contract with the architect and construction company, it would not be cost effective to do anything but move forward," Dearing told the community at a meeting in July.

Several meetings were then held with the community and EDA to find landscape and structural design compromises.

In September 2003, the construction start date was moved to Dec. 1 because the architectural team had not completed its developmental design drawings.

In October, estimates based on the still unfinished developmental design documents put the project $1.3 million over budget causing more delays while the construction team made budget cuts.

EDA did not complete the developmental design documents until November. The Manatee County School Board approved the plan at its Dec. 9 meeting, pushing the construction start date to April 2, 2004, and the school opening to August 2005.

If a repeat plan is approved for King, Assistant Superintendent of Schools Bill Horton said he would "conservatively" estimate the new school to ready by January 2006. "But if it all fell into place, August 2005 is probably doable."

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