By RICK HAYES
MT. VERNON — —
Representatives of the Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce Past President's Council confronted the Mt. Vernon Township High School Board of Education on Tuesday night, calling into question design plans for the new high school, and posing several questions related to the subject.
Mike Beard was the spokesman of the group, which numbered about a half-dozen representatives from the Chamber.
"It is our understanding that you are in the final design decision phase of the new school, and we've had a significant part in getting this whole thing passed in 2011," Beard told the Board.
He then read a prepared statement.
"Our council and the entire Chamber board enthusiastically supported the successful referendum of 2011 to build a new school. During that time many members of our Chamber showed overwhelming support for the conceptual design of the future Mt. Vernon Township High School building, as well as the amount of money we were told it was going to cost to build this new and exciting structure — a structure that will be a beacon for our community showing that we truly do care about the education of our youth.
"It is our Council's understanding that the original conceptual designs have changed. Because of the strong public support of the 2011 referendum and the leadership position the JCCC and its President's Council took, we feel we must be prepared to answer not only to our membership, but also to the taxpayers about changes to the original conceptual design, and any potential increase in the cost of construction for any changes made from the time the referendum was passed," he continued.
"Our Council feels that it is our obligation to make sure the high school board and the Building Committee are being good stewards of the taxpayers' money regardless of the final decision. Our Council also feels that we should do whatever we can to make sure the cost will not exceed the total amount voted on and approved by over 60 percent of the voters in the district. Our Council respectfully requests estimates on both the original conceptual building plan that was presented to the voters in 2011 and any news plans that have come about since that time. Our Council would also like to know, what if any, items will be on the chopping block if the final design comes in over the budget approved by the voters in 2011," he said.
"Finally, the Council would like to know if any of the following items are included in the total cost of the new structure: the cost of the existing school buildings, land acquisition costs, moving expenses, furniture and the increased design fees for revisions of the original conceptual plans. If not, how will these items be paid for? Our Council and we believe the entire community deserves to know what we can expect as the design and construction plans move forward," Beard concluded.
Board President Carl Miller responded, "We will work with you in the future on any questions you might have. We appreciate your concern and appreciate your support."
Before going into executive session after approving consent agenda items and several student-related trips, board member Jon Hawthorne asked if the board was going to contact anyone from the Chamber prior to the next Building Committee meeting on March 11. Miller said he had met with Board earlier in the day, and several items were discussed, including the conceptual design and the demolition of buildings. Miller also said he and Superintendent Mike Smith had spoken to the President's Council group in the past, adding, "I don't believe we will know the final price until the bids come in."
Smith said it is the intent of the Board and school leaders to stay within the parameters of the voter-approved referendum, which translates into a $19.8 million local match for the $62.5 million project.