Hunter School project price is over $29 million – www.elizabethton.com

With a bid nearly 50% over budget, school and county officials must decide how to proceed with the proposed Hunter School project.

Officials expected the project to cost $20 million. However, after two rounds of bidding, the only bid received was from JE Green’s for $29.2 million.

“The bottom line is that we have nowhere near $29.2 million,” said schools superintendent Dr. Tracy McAbee. “We set aside a 70-30 split of our ESSER 3 money with 70% to spend and the remaining 30% for the kids. That means about $10.5 million, and we’ve already spent $675,000 on architects, which leaves us with about $9.8 million.

And, McAbee said he wants to budget conservatively as he approaches a new fiscal year. “We don’t have tight incomes because the state was slow to provide us with the information we needed. We lost 100 students and we still don’t know if the 10% we budgeted for insurance could be reduced to 6 or 7%. I want to be conservative with the budget.

McAbee said efforts to secure funding from the county commission have raised questions about school consolidation, adding that “the budget really drives a lot of these decisions.”

The new project will add new classrooms, a new gymnasium, cafeteria and kitchen, and other updates to the current school that will allow over 900 elementary through middle school students to attend. Students from Keenburg and Unaka Elementary are included in the total number of students.

The only alternative presented by the builder was a new location that would be cheaper and faster to build since students will need to be moved to Hunter as each section is completed.

“The reality is… 60 days is all they can offer on price because of material prices,” McAbee said. “If we don’t move forward, you may not be able to spend the ESSER funds and will have to start over with the architect.”

A board member echoed his concerns to “create another Cloudland Elementary” if the project begins to separate to save money.

“If you’re going to fund it, don’t take anything out of the project or you’ll end up with another Cloudland Elementary,” Chris Hitechew said. “If we spent $675,000 on an architect, then we have to move on. I don’t want to lose that $10 million.

Danny Ward said: “The school is a necessary project because the county saves $10.5 million if they act on it. The county would lose if it was not implemented.

The committee decided to invite the Carter County Budget Committee to meet with them at 4:30 p.m. Thursday at the courthouse for a workshop to discuss possible options to help move the project forward.

Richard L. Militello