By Bill Short
The Millington School Board voted this week to request an architectural study of renovations to the Harvell Civic Center that would provide a Performing Arts Center.
Board members took the action Monday night during their regular monthly meeting on a motion offered by Larry Jackson and seconded by Mark Coulter. The motion was passed by a 6-1 vote, with Vice Chairman C. J. Haley dissenting.
Dr. David Roper, superintendent of Millington Municipal Schools, said Tennessee law “specifically prohibits” entities from contracting for architectural services based on competitive bids. But it does not prohibit them from “interviewing” eligible persons or groups to determine their capabilities.
The board’s policy is that those contracts will be awarded on the basis of “recognized competence and integrity.”
So, Roper said he will conduct discussions with architectural firms and select the one he considers the most qualified to provide the required service. Then, he will submit that recommendation for the board’s approval.
Roper said it has been incorrectly “communicated” in Millington that, by not issuing a Request for Proposals, the school system did not follow “proper procedure” when it selected an architectural firm to conduct a previous study.
“If we had done an RFP, we would have violated state law,” he noted. “We try to follow the law. And we’re going to do the same process in this architectural service that we do for any professional service.”
At an April 20 special called meeting, a majority of the board members rejected a $6,368,876 bid submitted by Fulwood Construction Co. of Olive Branch, Miss., for construction of a proposed new Performing Arts Center.
A motion offered by Haley and seconded by Chairman Cody Childress to accept the bid was defeated by a 4-3 vote, with Coulter, Jackson, Chris Denson and Ronnie Mackin dissenting.
At Monday night’s meeting, Mackin said there is also some “misinformation” in the community that the Performing Arts Center is “not wanted.” He said the issue is that the bid price for just the building is almost $1.5 million more than what was allocated in the school system’s current budget.
“I think there’s a difference between not being wanted for the kids and being $1.5 million over budget without seats, lighting and curtains,” Mackin said. “I just want to make sure that now we have a chance to explain that.”
While noting that the architectural firm did not submit a bid, Childress said it did estimate that the cost would be approximately $5 million.
Because the municipal school systems are currently doing a lot of construction, Childress said the contractors can “name their price” and can “get it.” And he believes those who submitted bids for the proposed Millington project know that.
“Nobody up here was pleased with the way it came out,” he acknowledged. “But to shut the door on the project is devastating to me personally, and I think to most level-headed people in this city.”
Mackin said no one believes the board needs to “close the door” on the facility. But it should obtain “a reasonable estimate” that is not $1.5 million over budget before the rest of the costs are incurred.
“The idea is not to shut the project down completely,” he noted. “It’s to go back to the drawing board and ask for another set of plans, and do it within our budget.”
In response to a question by Haley, Roper said the architectural study conducted in 2015 cost the board $14,000. But he acknowledged that the cost would be “significantly higher” this time, because a “much more comprehensive and exhaustive” study is being requested.
Roper said the architectural firm that the board approves for this study must understand that it has to determine the cost to create a “fully functioning” Performing Arts Center out of a renovated Harvell Civic Center.
Because the stage in the Civic Center Auditorium is approximately half the size of the one proposed for the Performing Arts Center, Roper said the architect must calculate renovation costs that allow for that.
He said the board could ask the architectural firm to give it a price for just “fixing up” the Civic Center enough to occupy the building.
“But no one should be deceived into thinking that’s going to be something that our kids or we would be proud of for them as a Performing Arts Center,” he concluded. “We want to have the study done to compare apples to apples on that. I think anything else would be a disservice.”
By Bill Short