Board members, who once expressed frustration over the project, said they were content with a proposal to build a standalone kindergarten through third grade building, which was later approved that afternoon.
Initial proposals were to consolidate buildings, but after realizing a proposal to build an addition onto Sailorway Middle School was on a designated flood plain, board members had to quickly look at other options.
Board President David Rice, who called the project a “fiasco” at the board’s meeting last week, said he was pleased that the district’s treasurer, Amy Hendricks, and Superintendent Phil Pempin could iron out some more of the details.
The two met with administration at the schools and determined a way to continue with the project while cutting at least $425,000.
“I love it. I really do,” Rice said Saturday.
Lesko Associates, the architects hired to complete the project, and former board member Tim Rini, who works for Green Space Construction, came up with the proposal to build the new building on the corner of Douglas Street and Sailorway Drive.
Rini told board members that the proposal was the best for traffic circulation, and board members Rice and Dale Dawson favored the idea because no ball fields would have to be moved.
According to Rice, board members had received the most community input from residents who did not want the fields to be moved. Dawson had spoke out against razing the fields as the taxpayers were still paying for the fields, which are funded by the Vermilion Parks Board.
Although costs will be saved in construction, Hendricks cautioned that cost savings over a 25-year period would be less than the initial proposal.
The board had counted on saving approximately an average of $98,247 per year with the consolidation of buildings and energy savings under the initial proposal. These cost savings would be a way to pay off $20 million the board borrowed through a lease/purchase arrangement in the private sector.
The board approved the loan during an October meeting and received the money in December, only to learn later that month that they couldn’t continue with the plan. Other options were not as feasible as the initial proposal, because they would mean more in construction costs as the fields would have had to move and traffic patterns would have to change.
Hendricks explained that the board couldn’t just return the money they borrowed, because investors were now involved. Because of this, the board had to quickly continue with a project to receive the cost savings they anticipated.
As a part of the financing structure, Hendricks said the first opportunity to pay back the loan with the lowest interest rate is in 2020.
“Now to say we’re going to scrap the project and send the money back is much more complicated than just walking back in and handing Huntington Bank, or whoever, a check for $20 million. We have to, in fact, make those investors who bought those funds whole up through that date of 2020,” she said.
The loan was a way to circumvent going to the voters with a levy, which they voted down in 2011. Hendricks told board members they may have to go to the voters sooner for more operating money with the new proposal, but she also presented cost-saving measures, including reducing maintenance and library staff and eliminating high school intramurals.
Hendricks said the cuts would not be made over a 25-year period as needed.
“We’re hoping that some (staff) will retire, and we won’t have to replace that person,” she said.
Other cost savings include eliminating a practice field from the proposal — a savings of $100,000.
Hendricks said the school should still save money in energy costs, the main reason the project was proposed, but board member Sid Jordan said he struggled with the proposal because it did not include consolidating the buildings.
“I personally have really wrestled with that change, because it goes against our integrity of why we went with this project in the first place,” he said during the meeting.
Rice said, although the project was a “trying time” for him, he could stand behind the decision.
“It’s funny how mistakes are made, and the end result can be better,” he said.
Rice said the board still intends to look into where mistakes were made regarding the flood plain. The area was designated a flood plain in 2008, but board members and the architects were unaware until after the project was under way.
Construction on the new building will begin in the meantime, and the roof is expected to be in place by winter.