Hoover School Board votes to move forward with Hoover High Arts Center

The Hoover School Board voted unanimously today to approve a $15.4 million construction contract for a new performing arts center at Hoover High School, despite much higher-than-expected costs .

When the school board hired an architectural firm and building program manager a year ago, the estimated construction cost for the arts center was $9.7 million, but when bids came in this spring, the lowest bidder said it could do the job for $17.4 million — 79% higher than previously expected.

In late June, the school board tabled a vote on the contract and authorized the superintendent to negotiate in an attempt to achieve a lower cost. Since that time, the lowest bidder – Blalock Building Co. – has worked with school officials to make some changes and reduce the cost from $2 million to $15.4 million.

Entering today’s school meeting, school board chair Amy Tosney said she was unsure if the board would continue because some board members were still hesitant about the cost higher.

The board met for more than an hour in a working session at 11 a.m. to take stock of the file.

Mark David, senior vice president of Blalock Building, said his company was able to reduce the price by $2 million largely due to changes to the roof and mechanical system. Other changes included the removal of tile wall coverings in the bathrooms, the use of a different fabric on auditorium seating, minor changes to rigging and electrical systems, and the delay of some cosmetic features such as awnings outside building entrances.

They left the seats at 940, kept the stage the same size (50 feet wide and 40 feet deep) and didn’t want to make any changes that would have a significant impact on performance quality, they didn’t therefore made no changes in things such as the audiovisual system, Blalock said.

Tosney, who did not want to change the size of the building, asked how much money would be saved if the size of the building was reduced from 36,000 square feet to 20,000 square feet and seating was reduced.

Architect Rick Lathan said it would likely save about $1.7-2 million if building material prices remained stable, but the project would have to be priced higher if the size of the building changed, and any savings cost would likely be absorbed by the projected cost. increases as the price of materials continues to rise.

Plus, going to 20,000 square feet would remove about 200 seats, leaving 740 seats, which in a few years wouldn’t even leave enough seats for a full grade level, Lathan said.

Board members Craig Kelley and Kermit Kendrick said all board members see the need for a new performing arts center at Hoover High, but they’re just trying to be fiscally responsible deciding whether or not to continue with such high costs.

Kendrick said there was nothing wrong with them asking tough questions about the issue. “We have a fiduciary duty to be fiscally responsible,” he said.

Tosney, who has been pushing for a new performing arts center since joining the board five years ago, said she fears it will never happen if they don’t do it now. If they wait and renew their offering with a smaller design, the cost could be the same with fewer seats, she said.

Board member Alan Paquette said it made sense to continue when 47% of Hoover High students are involved in performing arts programs and the costs will only continue to rise.

“This is a long overdue facility,” said Paquette.

Tosney asked the school system’s chief financial officer, Michele McCay, if the board could pay $15.4 million for the arts center while keeping its reserves where they needed to be.

McCay said bondholders like the school system to maintain at least five months of reserves, and if revenues and expenses remained fairly stable, the school system would still have 5.2 months of reserves at the end of the year. financial year 2028.

When it came time to vote at a 1 p.m. action meeting, all five board members voted to go ahead with the project, followed by cheers from arts supporters in the audience.

Tosney, after the vote, said she was overwhelmed with excitement. She didn’t know how the vote would go and appreciates that all the board members worked together on the case.

“That’s good advice – thoughtful questions,” she said.

Seeing the project approved means everything to her, she said, noting that she would see her youngest daughter, who is in the choir, perform on that stage before she graduates.

“I’m so excited to see everything that’s going to be showcased on this stage,” Tosney said. “I don’t think anyone can fathom all the wonderful ways the entire student body will be able to use this building.”

Ryan Fitzpatrick, the Hoover High group manager, said he too was very happy to see the project get approval.

“This represents a tremendous opportunity for our students, now and in the future,” said Fitzpatrick. “I greatly appreciate their leadership and willingness to put opportunities at the forefront of their decision-making.”

During the business session, Fitzpatrick said that of the 32 schools in Secondary Division 7A, only two — Foley and Fairhope — did not have an auditorium, and they share an auditorium with neighboring Daphne High School. Opelika High School uses a city-funded community arts center, but beyond those, Hoover High is “bottom of the barrel” when it comes to performing arts facilities in 7A, it said. he declares.

Hoover bands have to perform in their gyms and have had to borrow rehearsal space at Samford University when preparing for high-profile performances elsewhere, he said.

A 940-seat theater is not “luxury” or “excessive,” Fitzpatrick said. Compared to other 7A schools, “we ask for an average,” he said.

Hoover is one of the largest high schools in the state, with an expected enrollment of 2,880 this year.

Dalton Dismukes, an incoming senior at Hoover High who serves as a drum major in the band, said the performing arts students at Hoover were extremely grateful that the board moved the project forward. He knows it won’t be finished in time for him to use it, but “it’s going to have a huge impact on students years and years from now,” he said.

Superintendent Dee Fowler noted that the school board discussed the highly contentious issue of masks in schools in a public place a year ago, and he appreciates the courage of this board to publicly discuss another issue, even when they might not agree on certain things.

He has been in teaching for a long time and he appreciates that they are dealing with differences of opinion in a public place rather than behind closed doors in a smoky room, he said.

Matt Wilson, director of school system operations, said it will take a few weeks for the construction contract to be completed and approved by the state, and he expects construction to begin in about three weeks. Once construction begins, it should take 16 to 17 months, he said.

The school board is using government bonds to provide most of the funding for this project.

William E. Bennett