Saturday, March 5, 2011

Good news for Carter. Maybe

Pre-proposal conferences aren't usually a big deal, so I'm not surprised that the one held last Tuesday for businesses to build a potential Carter Elementary School didn't get much (or any) serious mainstream coverage at the time.

But, Friday, the county released a statement about it.

And it actually is kind of a big deal. At least for those who want a new school.

It shows that county Mayor Tim Burchett's plan to give the Carter Community a new building is not only moving forward, but it's moving forward in earnest. I think a lot of people felt his plan – which involves someone building the thing at a cheaper cost than the Public Building Authority would (about $13 million) and then leasing it back to the county – was foolish.

They felt that the mayor shouldn't stick his nose in school business. They felt he was overstepping his boundaries.

I don't buy it.

East Knox County residents sought Burchett's help. He obliged.

(The same residents also sought help from the school board, which said “no, we're just going to renovate it.” Then they went to the county commissioners, and after much hoopla from those officials about finding the money to build a new school, they weren't successful. But I digress.)

Anyhoo, on Tuesday, the Industrial Development Board, school and county officials met with roughly 100 representatives from more than 50 businesses (some from other states), and took them on a tour of the site and talked about the proposal.

Later, county Purchasing Director Hugh Holt, also a co-chair of the committee that developed the Carter request for proposal, said he'd “never seen this high of a turnout” for a pre-proposal conference.

That means people are interested in this thing. They want to build it. They want the money. The economy sucks right now and people need to work. That's no secret. But even the administration was surprised that this many people showed up.

The proposals must be submitted by April 4. Obviously not all 50 businesses will bid. But if even half that amount turns in a proposal, it will still be more than the county averages during the typical bidding process. An evaluation team will look over the bids and then turn what it feels is the best one over to the Knox County Board of Education for a final decision as to whether it will build a new school under the proposal, according to the release.

From there, unfortunately for the pro-schoolers (I couldn't resist using that phrase), it's a crap shoot.

(I don't like using phrases like “reliable sources” or “those close to the project” or “anonymous sources,” but I'm going to have to cite a few here.)

I have heard talk that some on the school board – no matter how good this project is, no matter what kind of deal the county can get – I have heard talk that some members will not sign off on it.

They're still not happy that Burchett got involved. If that's the case, then it's kind of petty. No one is going to admit it publicly, though. But it will be obvious if it happens.

Still, if even half the bidders who attended the conference on Tuesday submit something good, then the school board faces a lot more pressure than it did months ago when those officials wanted to move forward and do things their own way.

On a side note, I don't have a dog in this fight. I'm on the outside, looking in. I'm just telling you what I know.

And we'll all know more in the coming weeks.

Here's the release, by the way, if you're interested in reading it:

Knoxville, Tenn. — This week, the Industrial Development Board held a successful pre-proposal conference for any business interested in submitting a proposal for potentially building a new Carter Elementary School, according to Knox County Purchasing Director Hugh Holt, who is also co-chair of the committee that developed the Carter request for proposal.

According to Holt, approximately 100 people representing more than 50 businesses attended Tuesday’s pre-proposal conference, which included a tour of the site designated for the proposed new elementary school.

“In my tenure as purchasing director, I’ve never seen this high of a turnout for a pre-proposal conference,” Holt said. “This is a solid indicator that the construction community is eager to work in this economy, and they want to get involved in public projects, where maybe they haven’t been in the past.”

The purpose of the pre-proposal conference is to collect information from anyone interested in submitting a project bid, and to offer an opportunity for potential bidders to ask questions, get additional information and seek clarification on the RFP, if needed.

“It was certainly encouraging to see the level of interest in this proposal based upon the attendance at the pre-proposal conference.” RFP committee co-chair and Knox County Schools Supervisor of New Facilities Doug Dillingham said. “We look forward to seeing the proposals that are submitted and how they address our program standards.”

“I’ve been impressed with the work of the RFP committee, especially under the business-minded leadership of co-chair Mitch Steenrod. Also, the input from school system staff members will help ensure that, if built, the new Carter Elementary will be an example of a great Knox County School. ” Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett said. “Overall, the committee represented an unprecedented mix of school officials, county purchasing staff and private sector experts.”

All proposals must be turned in by April 4 at 3 p.m. After that, the RFP evaluation committee will select the successful proposal, which will then be considered by the IDB. If the IDB chooses to accept the evaluation committee’s choice, it will then go to the Knox County Board of Education for a final decision as to whether they will build a new school under the proposal.


Anonymous said...

It might be cheaper than the old way of building a new school ($10M versus $13M), but the school board still has to find a way to pay for it.


Mike Donila said...

You're right, except it will be the county and not the school board. But, yes, it's going to cost more than what it would under the renovations only plan.