“It has become evident that the projected cost for the scope of the work exceeds the amount of money we have,” said Superintendent Mendel Stewart in a statement to the press the morning after a lengthy executive session with the school board Tuesday.
However, when The Progress asked how much it would actually cost to fund the project as is, a spokesperson for the district refused to disclose the information.
“We will release figures after Monday night,” said Julie Thompson. “Those are still executive session discussions.”
However, financial figures are not exempt from being released under freedom of information laws, even if they are discussed during executive session, according to Bill Rogers, director of the S.C. Press Association.
Last week, the Progress reported that Alex Saitta, Pickens representative on the board, estimated the current cost to be at more than $400 million.
Stewart said he plans to make a recommendation to the board at its Monday, Feb. 23 meeting as to how the district should move forward and complete the program.
“Meanwhile I am meeting with architects and construction management staff to examine ways we can accomplish what we need with the amount of money available,” he said.
Shirley Jones, at-large representative on the board, said she is confident the board and district can come together to complete the project, as promised and within budget.
“We’re down to the nitty gritty,” Jones said. “We want to make sure our expectations are in line with our actual funds.”
Right now, the district can spend $365 million on the four new high schools, a new career center, two new elementary schools, renovations to 12 elementary schools, and upgrading three high schools to middle schools.
Some elementary school renovations have been completed.
In November 2006, the school board approved the $315 million project, but interest coming in at a fixed 4.6 percent has yielded an extra $41 million for the construction, Jones said.
She said there have not been actual cost overruns at this point because contracts have not been entered and construction has not begun for the bulk of the project, including the new high schools.
“The board and administration is taking a responsible look at the total money available and the true cost of constructing the building,” Jones said.
Saitta said the board has some options to reduce the cost a little.
“But there has been some mismanagement, waste, poor oversight and too many promises made for the money the board on hand,” he said.
“Now that we are getting accurate cost estimates, it’s clear the $315 million figure was a pipe dream,” Saitta said.
Thank goodness for Dr. Stewart for shining a light on this because before that, I was in the dark about the real figures, he added.
Jones said she has been questioned by members of the public about why the district was moving forward with the project when employees were being furloughed and layoffs are expected next school year.
“Building funds cannot be used for employee salaries,” she said. “And we don’t have the power to change that.”