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BOE delays vote on architect until site visits

By BETH ALSTON
beth.alston@americustimesrecorder.com
www.americustimesrecorder.com

AMERICUS — Following a called meeting of the Sumter County Board of Education on Tuesday, the board on Thursday decided to delay selecting an architectural firm for  the construction of the new high school.
At Tuesday’s session, the board heard presentations from three firms: Buckley & Associates from Albany; Manley Spangler Smith Architects from Griffin; and Studio 8 from Valdosta which will partner with Perkins and Wills from Atlanta for the project.
Following each presentation Tuesday, representatives of the firm were asked questions by board members.
At Thursday’s called meeting, the board discussed the firms.
Board member Alice Green made a comment first.
“This is a great task and we must be conscientious and thorough in our selection. We need to look for the best person for the job. I will say my spiel again: ‘for board members who met with individuals with the architectural firms to try to influence the contract, that’s a conflict of interest and they should not vote’.”
Board member Rick Barnes said he was impressed with all three presentations but had some concerns.
One of those concerns was that Greg Smith of Buckley had made the comment at Tuesday’s meeting that he didn’t know why he was there to make a presentation. Buckley & Associates has a long-standing relationship with the school system and has completed many projects for the system over the years. Barnes said he viewed the comment by Smith as a negative but the longevity of the relationship as a positive.
Barnes said that Matt Hart of Studio 8 seemed nervous in his presentation and he viewed that as a negative; however, Hart “has a personal interest in the project” which Barnes views as a positive and a negative. Hart grew up in Americus and is a product of the local public school system.
As for high school construction experience, Barnes said Buckley has “a lot” and Manley Spangler Smith has “five or six” and Studio 8 (in partnership with Perkins and Wills) has “100 or so.”
Other discussion involved firm presence on the construction site during the project, involvement of the community in the design, and cost.
“They are all quality people,” Mike Busman, board chairman, said. “ … but I would like to go and look at some of the schools built by these firms.”
Board member Jim Reid concurred and said he, too, would like to take a look.
Board member Edith Green was concerned if the board “has time” to go and visit other sites.
“In the past we’ve been offered flights, bus rides and car trips, but we haven’t had time. Are we going to take the time to do this?”
Busman said board members had been offered opportunities and some did and some didn’t take them.
Alice Green said, “We said we would vote tonight. Why is there thinking that we need more time?”
Reid said, “If you will review the minutes, every time we talked about it (the new high school project), after narrowing it to three (firms), I said I wanted to visit the schools.”
“Didn’t we put out that we would vote tonight?” Alice Green pressed.
Busman said this is a “very important decision” and they may or may not vote tonight.
Board member Meda Krenson said as a board, they are “rookies” in this process of choosing an architectural firm … If people want to go check them out, OK.”
Busman suggested they not “drag it out,” but take maybe a month to go and look.
Reid said, “ … I heard some innovative ideas and I want to see. This is a $40 million project and I want to do due diligence and make every effort to educate myself before making a decision.”
Edith Green commented, “The firms can bring their ideas forward, but it’s up to the board to decide how much we want to spend.”
Krenson, who is an architect and chairman of the property committee, said they should also consider if the firms are design-bid and build firms or construction management firms.
“We need to put that into the formula,” she said. “Also note that Studio 8 and Manley Spangler Smith said there needs to be local and minority suppliers used in the project.
Edith Green voiced her concern that Studio 8 is in Valdosta and Perkins and Wills is in Atlanta, and that Studio 8 “has only been in existence for two years.”
Edith Green said she has other concerns but will discuss them with  the board “at another time.”
Barnes commented that Buckley is the closest and that’s an advantage.
Edith Green said, “Let’s decide what we’re going to do and do it.”
Alice Green said she has “other concerns” as well but wants to meet in executive session to voice her concerns.
Krenson said Studio 8 has architects with over 30 years experience who were pulled together to form Studio 8.
It was finally decided that Superintendent Larry Walters would coordinate with board members to go visit school sites.
Alice Green again said she “needs an executive session to voice concerns.”
On Friday morning, the Times-Recorder contacted David Hudson, chief counsel for the Georgia Press Association, and asked about the legality of such discussions in closed session. He advised, “I see that is simply a contractual matter that should be discussed in an open meeting if discussed with a quorum of fellow members of the Board.  It would not qualify as a personnel matter, as no person is being considered for hiring as an employee, nor has there been a threat of litigation that would trigger that possible exception to public meetings.”
Hudson also urged the Times-Recorder to “insist on public discussion of the matter.”