Price tag on Hunter School project balloons to over $29 million

Published 4:49 pm Friday, May 6, 2022

With a bid nearly 50 percent higher than budget, school and county officials have to decide how to proceed with the proposed Hunter School project.

Officials expected the project to cost $20 million. However, after two rounds of bidding, the only bid received was from J.E. Green’s for $29.2 million.

“The bottom line is that we don’t have anywhere close to the $29.2 million,” said Director of Schools Dr. Tracy McAbee. “We set aside a 70-30 split of our ESSER 3 money with 70 percent to spend and the other 30 percent on the kids. That means roughly $10.5 million and we have already spent $675,000 on architects leaving us with around $9.8 million.”

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And, McAbee said he wants to budget conservatively heading into a new fiscal year. “We don’t have the revenues tacked down tight, as the state has been slow getting us the information that we needed. We are down 100 students and still are not sure if the 10% we budgeted for insurance could possibly come down to 6 to 7%. I want to be conservative with the budget.”

McAbee said efforts to secure funding from the county commission resulted in questions about school consolidation, adding “really the budget drives a lot of those decisions.”

The new project will add new classrooms, a new gym, cafeteria and kitchen, and other updates to the current school which will allow over 900 students in elementary through junior high to attend. Students from Keenburg and Unaka Elementary are figured into the overall count of students.

The only alternative presented by the builder was a new location that would be cheaper and faster to build since the students will have to be moved around at Hunter as each section is completed.

“The reality is … 60 days is all they can offer on the price because of material prices,” said McAbee. “If we don’t move forward, you may not be able to spend the ESSER funds and would have to start over with the architect.”

One board member echoed his concerns of “creating another Cloudland Elementary” if the project starts getting picked apart to save money.

“If you are going to fund it, don’t take nothing out of the project or you are going to end up with another Cloudland Elementary,” said Chris Hitechew. “If we have spent $675,000 on an architect, then we need to go forward. I don’t want to lose that $10 million.”

Danny Ward said, “The school is a needed project because the county is saving $10.5 million if they act on it. The county would be losing out if it is not acted on.”

The committee decided to invite the Carter County Budget Committee to meet with them at 4:30 p.m. Thursday at the courthouse for a workshop to discuss possible options to help move the project forward.