Hoover School Board organizes the construction of an arts center due to rising costs

The Hoover School Board today filed for consideration of a construction contract for a new fine arts center at Hoover High School after construction costs were much higher than expected, and officials from the school will now try to negotiate a lower price.

When the school board hired Lathan Associates to design the new theater and Volkert Inc. to serve as program manager in August of last year, the estimated construction cost was $9.7 million and the total estimated cost ( with design fees) was $10.5 million.

But when construction bids for the 36,000 square foot facility were recently submitted, they came in at $18.3 million from Taylor and Miree Construction and $17.4 million from Blalock Building Co.

School board member Craig Kelley said he knows costs have been rising lately, but was surprised when the lowest bid was nearly 80 per cent higher than the estimates the board had received one year ago.

Volkert’s Glenn Slater said previous estimates were based on data from other recent similar projects and said his company was also surprised by the $17.4 million offer. His company had factored in a potential increase in costs into its earlier projections, but it never anticipated costs would go this high, he said.

Rick Lathan of Lathan Associates said costs particularly increased with masonry and mechanical work and said he believed this was largely due to less availability of subcontractors.

School board member Alan Paquette recommended that the board allow Superintendent Dee Fowler, his staff, Volkert and Lathan Associates to try to negotiate a lower price with Blalock Building, the lowest bidder for the project.

In particular, he recommended professionals try to get Blalock to request quotes from additional contractors in some of these key areas where costs are rising.

School board president Amy Tosney, a board member who led the fine arts center project, said she was okay with trying to cut costs further, but didn’t want to see the project too small. The seats have already been reduced from 1,200 seats to 945 seats.

“My concern is that it’s Hoover, and I don’t want to do anything that’s below the Hoover standard,” Tosney said.

She also doesn’t want to delay the project with too many renegotiations because school officials only have so long to spend the government bond money they planned to use for the arts center.

Michele McCay, the school system’s chief financial officer, said the state likely won’t allow bond money to be used for projects unless the projects are about 80% complete by October 2023.

Tosney said she was tired of waiting to move this project forward. While they may be able to cut some costs, she doesn’t think they can cut the $5 million cost. Paquette said he thinks a cost reduction of $3 million might be possible.

Slater said his team will talk with Blalock Building Co. and go line by line to see where savings can be found.

McCay said the board’s recently approved six-year capital plan would allow the school system to keep its reserves high enough to cover at least five months of operating expenses, but if the school board ends up spending $5 million in addition to Hoover’s Fine Arts Center, some other capital projects may need to be delayed. The board needs to determine its priorities, she said.

Kelley said there was indeed a limit to what the school board could spend on the fine arts center. “I don’t know what it is, but there is a limit,” he said.

Paquette said the fine arts center project has been on the books for a long time.

“My feeling is that Hoover High School, through its excellence in the arts, has earned a first-class building,” he said.

He recently visited Albertville High School and was blown away by their art installation, he said.

“Let’s use all of our intellectual energy and see if we can find a way forward and not just stop there,” Paquette said.

The council voted unanimously to allow the superintendent to negotiate with Blalock Building for a reduced price and bring that price back to the council for review.

William E. Bennett