Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Burchett at least gave it a shot

Deep down I think I wanted county Mayor Tim Burchett’s Carter proposal to work.

If only because he was the one elected official who really, really worked to rebuild - not just renovate - that busted-up, low-grade, mold-ridden, toilet-leaking, floor-creaking, ceiling-dripping (you get the point) building.

The school board sure didn’t give it a shot.

And the ra-ra-we’re-going-to-do-something-about-it commission during last year’s budget hearings, when it withheld the renovation coin and – at one point – appeared to tell school officials how to spend it (which by the law is either illegal or borderline illegal), sure didn’t give it the old college try, either.

So, yeah - despite kicking the administration in the nads on occasion – this time I applaud the guy. He tried.

And, yeah, people are going to say it was politically motivated, or that he stuck his nose in the school system’s business, or whatever.

It doesn’t matter.

The residents went to the school board and were turned away. The commission failed them.

Their last stop by default was the mayor’s front door. And Burchett opened it.

He proposed the whole “let the developer build it and pay for it and we’ll lease it back” deal.

It was different.

For Knox County, anyway.

(Not the rest of the world, mind you.)

But here’s the problem.

The school system has some pretty tough standards on how they build new schools.

(And yeah, when they renovate a school, it’s certainly not going to have all the standards as a new one would, which kind of makes it a moot point, but I’m getting off track here.)

Anyhoo, the high standards mean big bucks. About $13 million for a new Carter Elementary School.

(I’m not going to rehash the whole episode here. If you know it, then you’re probably still reading. If you don’t, then you’ve left and aren’t missing anything. I've also provided links to old stories along the way. That's what those underlined words are. Heh.)

We got six proposals yesterday. That’s it.

I know the administration is happy about that. (or that’s what members are saying publicly.) I know county purchasing director Hugh Holt (whom I jokingly told I hope no one bids because I’m tired of covering the story) said that’s good, too. And county communications manager Michael "he who manages one person" Grider put his spin on it, also, with some press release that I promptly filed in the trash can.

Blah, blah. Whatever.

That’s not good.

It was advertised for a longer than usual period of time. It got great play in the media. And about 100 folks representing 50 groups attended the pre-bidding conference (or whatever it was called) in March.

Six isn’t going to cut it. And yeah, I know some of the folks teamed up, so that dwindles down the real numbers.

But more should have bid.

It would have created the true competition Burchett sought when he started this ordeal. It would have lowered the price.

But I don’t think it did or will.

Here’s the problem:

Despite the county’s attempts to stave off open records laws and not release the bid packages (which I still haven’t gotten a real explanation for why that’s the case), I know some of the proposed price tags.

One group told me it would cost $12 million to build.

The other? $15 million. That’s $14 million they’ll take out in loans, and the county - I’m pretty sure this is how it is proposed - would need to come up with $1 million.

Yeah, it’s only two of the six bids. But it’s also two-thirds of the bidders and the bidders I just cited know what they’re doing. They’ve successfully done big projects before. They know the numbers.

And the prices are close to what the school system has been telling folks it would cost the whole time.

It just doesn’t appear that the old East Knox County school can get built for a bargain.

And the school board isn’t going to accept that.

(Actually, let’s not kid ourselves here. The school board was never going to sign off on the deal. Even if it did come in way under $13 million. But that’s another post for another day.)

So, what I guess I’m trying to say is that I applaud Burchett’s efforts. But I don’t see this thing happening.

(If it does, I’ll buy the guy a drink. And post about it. If only so people can call that ridiculous tattletale line.)

And when the administration does throw in the towel, I know a lot of folks will take their shots.

And maybe rightly so. I don’t know.

But, at least Burchett tried.

No one else did.


Those are my nice words for the day.

Tune in tomorrow and I’ll find some way to kick the administration in the nads.

You know, cause it’s fun.

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