By David Porter
The Tuscola School Board on Wednesday, July 27, approved a letter of intent with Omni Energy Partners for the next phase of building renovations. The decision was postponed last month after Board member Darold Spillman raised questions about transparency in bidding with the first phase.
The Board is using energy performance contracting, which allows the millions of dollars in renovations to be made without public bidding. Spillman noted that if the project comes in lower than expected, even significantly lower, the price for the district would remain the same.
He also noted that the Board had been told that there would be no change orders with energy performance contracting, but the $5.5 million first phase includes change orders. The next phase is expected to cost $15 million and will include upgrades to the high school’s stage.
On Wednesday, Spillman said he “feels good” about the process now and said there are “stop points in place” so the district can pull out of its contract at various stopping places. “I think there’s more transparency,” he said.
The vote to accept the letter of intent with Omni was passed unanimously. Wade Wilcox and Jessi Young were absent from the meeting.
The Board also agreed to a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Omni to pay its architects and engineers if the district does not sign a contract with them for the construction. Superintendent Gary Alexander said that none of the money would go to Omni but would pay for the professional services provided toward the project plan. The Board approved a similar MOU for the first phase.
Under the terms of the MOU, if the district decides to end its agreement with Omni following the design phase, the district would pay Omni $387,324. If the district proceeds to the construction document phase of its agreement with Omni but decides not to contract the work to Omni, either because the school decides not to do the work or chooses a different contract, the district agreed to pay Omni up to $643,000 within 60 days of Omni delivering the design services and bid documents to the district.
The latter amount would include the design work and is not in addition to it. According to the MOU, the amount represents 4.3 percent of the initial construction budget.
The MOU calls for cost estimates and conceptual plans to be presented by Aug. 12 with interior finishes including fixtures and source materials to be selected by Sept. 12. Bids would be due by Oct. 24 with the construction contract awarded by Nov. 7.
At the end of the meeting, Board member Bob Devlin said, “Omni took it on the chin a little bit” at the last Board meeting. He praised their work and noted that they came up with a solution to provide air conditioning in the new high school science lab for the start of school. The rooftop units have been delayed, so Omni is providing their own cooling units and will swap them out for the new ones when they get here. “A major shout-out to them,” Devlin said.
Spillman said work at East Prairie has been “clicking right along” and that there has been “amazing progress” weekly. He added that he is “happy, happy, happy” that the power lines on the south side of the high school have been moved underground. It looks a lot better, he said.
Alexander said that despite rumors, school will start on time although there may be some minor construction projects left to “button up.”
Alexander said sports will start Aug. 8 and reminded everyone that health physicals will need to be up-to-date. There will be a freshman/new student orientation at the high school at 7 p.m. Aug. 9 with ice cream treats as an incentive to attend.
Registration will be open Aug. 9-12 at the high school and Chromebooks can be picked up from 9 a.m. till 4 p.m. Aug. 12. Attendance begins Aug. 16.
Registration at East Prairie opens Aug. 8 and an open house is set for Aug. 18.
Alexander noted that the federal government will not be providing free breakfast and lunch for all this school year. However, those who are eligible for free or reduced cost meals will continue to receive those benefits.
In other business, the Board voted down a proposal that would have allowed students to participate in Illinois High School Association swimming tournaments as long as they provided their own coaching and traveling expenses as well as their own insurance. The request was made by Ella Mayfield, who said previously that her swim times would have placed her in the top 10 in the state in three events last year, but she cannot participate because the school does not have a swim team.
When asked, Alexander said the proposal would not have incurred any cost to the district. He said he thinks the Board turned it down because it would have created a precedence. Spillman and Devlin voted for the proposal while Jerrod Baird, Chris Rennels and Brad Ingram voted against it.
Devlin asked if the proposal could be tabled, but Alexander said Mayfiield would have to be signed up by (last) Friday to participate.
Alexander also noted that revenue from the county’s 1 percent sales tax is up significantly. Last year’s allotment for the Tuscola school district was $892,000 compared to $675,000 the year before. He attributed the increase to the Love’s Travel Center. The sales tax can be used in limited ways including building construction, paying down bonds and security. “It bodes well for our construction projects,” he said.
Following a closed session, the Board accepted resignations from Jean Holmes as high school teacher and sponsor, Jason Rennert as recess and lunch supervisor and Sarah McCrory Wasiloski as dance coach.
New hires were Ericka Mentock as a paraprofessional, Dean Gjerde as a high school history teacher, Breanna Yantis as a North Ward social worker, and Bryan Thomas as East Prairie girls track coach.