Mt. Vernon Register-News

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March 12, 2013

Design questions asked and answered

The President’s Council asked officials about plans for the new high school

MT. VERNON — — Members of the Past President's Council of the Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce had a laundry list of questions for Mt. Vernon Township High School officials and the architects involved in the plans for a new school at a 90-minute Building Committee Monday night.

When all the smoke had cleared — and there was plenty from both sides — it was evident the parties involved are all seeking the same resolve: the best possible high school at the lowest price available.

Architect Greg Brown of FGM, using diagrams from two original designs and the two most recent designs, attempted to explain the differences. Brown noted the original design of a 300,000 square feet building for a two-story building was intended for a school to be built on Veterans Memorial Drive. When that land did not become available, school officials picked the current location on 82 acres of ground at Wells Bypass and Ambassador roads.

Although the design plans have changed from the original in that the buildings will have more of a curve style rather than a rectangular style building, Brown noted the square footage will remain close to 305,000 square feet.

Brown explained the building will have four entrances — the main administration building, theatre, gym and CTE (Career Technical Education), with approximately 750 parking spaces. The current campus has approximately 700 parking spaces, it was reported.

Brown could not provide definitive costs on construction, although he noted that labor costs have increased about 3 percent per year and a new school recently built in Mascoutah cost approximately $190 per square foot.

McCarthy Builders has been named the project manager of the new school project. McCarthy's Chris Nisbet, who was also at the meeting,will be supervising the construction. Nisbet said 90 percent of school construction is what he does, and the MVTHS project will be his second such project. Nisbit described the Mt. Vernon project as "unique" for schools of similar population. The current school enrollment is around 1,300, but the builders are facilitating the plans to include an enrollment of 1,400 to 1,800, based on potential growth in the area.

President's Council spokesman Mike Beard questioned the size of the theatre and gymnasium, and Brown confirmed the seating capacity for the theatre will be smaller (650) compared to the current facility, due to building code standards. President Carl Miller said in order to meet an 800 seating capacity, it would cost the school district an additional $1 million.

The seating capacity for the gymnasium was also brought into question, with Brown indicating the new gym would have a seating capacity of 2,000, compared to the 1,500 at Changnon Gym.

Financing was discussed at length with school officials adamant that taxpayers will not be required to pay anymore than the $19.8 million approved through voter referendum. Beard asked how much of those bonds have been sold, and Superintendent Mike Smith estimated approximately $16.3 million. Beard asked if the district planned to sell the remaining $3.5 million, and board member Karen Goodwine said the district could legally, although it's unlikely.

School officials are working with a budget of $62.5 million for the new school, although it received $72.8 million from the Capital Development Board. In addition to the nearly $20 million received from the bond referendum, school officials are hoping to raise several million dollars from other revenue sources, and Miller noted the district has about $1 million in reserves for items not covered by the referendum or the CDB, including demolition of the current campus buildings.

"We can't share bid estimates …  but we can share that we continue to scale back costs without eliminating components in the original referendum," Smith said.

Smith said from his perspective, he needs to answer just two questions: "Did we sell the $19.8 million in bonds, and did we build the best school? I want to answer yes to both of those questions."

Board member Greg Backes added, "Everyone here has the same interest. In 25 years they won't remember our name, but will they remember the facility? Everyone has worked hard for it. We all want the same result."

Miller said at the outset the purpose of the meeting was to get questions answered for all concerned, noting, "We hope everyone will leave satisfied and happy and we can move on with should prove to be an excellent project for Mt. Vernon and the community."

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