Orange Beach middle/high school opening delayed ‘til fall of 2020
Some grades to use portables at OBES; others will go to Gulf Shores
By Fran Thompson
Construction of the new Baldwin County School District high school and middle school on land donated by Orange Beach adjacent to the Orange Beach Sportsplex has been pushed back 12 months after the lone bid for the project came in almost $20 million over expected cost projections.
Thrash Contractors’ $42.7 million bid was so far removed from the school system’s $25 million initial estimate for the project that the School Board had little choice but to unanimously vote to table the issue until it meets later this month.
“We didn’t expect to have only one bidder or for the bid to come in twice as much as we thought it might be,’’ said BCSD Superintendent Eddie Tyler.
“This is a building that will serve generations of students, so we will go through the process in a methodical manner,’’ he added. “It should be noted that we are repeatedly being told that steel prices, combined with contractors competing to do work on the Gulf Coast following the hurricane isn’t helping us at all in lowering the price.’’
Orange Beach Mayor Tony Kennon said a tight construction timeline in a tight labor market, especially with the Florida Panhandle rebuilding after Hurricane Michael, more than the unique architectural design led to the lone high bid.
The Baldwin County Board of Education is going to extend the timeline for completed construction until June 1, 2020 and re-bid the project on December 4, according to Mayor Kennon.
“I don’t think the problem was the design,’’ Kennon said. “The reason we only had one bid was more because of the timeline. The design of the building is not out of line with normal construction. It is not something that a contractor would run or cringe from. All of the contractors said the timeline was an issue, and a lot of it was because of the hurricane over in Panama City.’’
Four contractors pulled out of the bid process because they are involved in Hurricane Michael reconstruction efforts.
The independent school system in Gulf Shores starts in August of 2019. The city has already appointed a school board and hired a superintendent.
“The question has been asked: will this affect our negotiations with Gulf Shores? It will not change the August 2019 separation date nor our unwavering passion to be guided by what is best for our students,’’ Tyler said.
“(Gulf Shores) Mayor Craft has reached out and said he will help in any way he could, and we are probably going to have to take him up on that,’’ Kennon said. “We are also looking at portables for some of the grades. So it will probably be a combination. I have a meeting with the county this week to look at the options and put a plan in place.’’
Kennon said he will present that plan to the community when it is in place, but he fully expects some grades to stay in Orange Beach and others to be sent to Gulf Shores.
“We will continue to do everything in our power to be wise stewards of the taxpayers’ money and that starts with taking a hard look at the project in its entirety so that we make good, intelligent, well-thought-out decisions,’’ Tyler said.
Before the unexpected bid results, Superintendent Tyler met with Mayor Kennon, District 5 Baldwin County School Board member Norma Lynch and O.B. City Council member Annette Mitchell to share thoughts on the new school.
Tyler said the plan for the new school is to use the second floor for middle school students and the first floor for high school students. Each will have its own principal.
Covering 130,000 square feet, the school will include 28 classrooms, two special needs classrooms, two middle school science labs, four high school science labs, a competition gym seating 736, a band room for 100 students, a choral room, a families and consumers sciences lab, a drivers education lab, an indoor dining cafeteria seating 300 and an outside pavilion/dining area seating 300.
The school’s performing arts hall, funded by the City of Orange Beach, will seat 700.
Kennon and Mitchell said Orange Beach will fully support the new school in any way that it can. Tyler said he welcomes that partnership, which began with the city donating the property for the new school.
“It’s a beautiful site,” Tyler said. “There’s a lot of talk around the state when I go to meetings about different things about the look of the building and the excitement, so we’re just going to keep that up.”
As required by state law, BCSD already had a back-up plan if there was a delay in construction.
Meeting an August 2019 deadline for construction of the school was always going to be a tight window, Tyler said.
“There’s going to be a portable village,” Tyler said in September. “It will have to be architected and engineered and the state building commission has to bless it. It will be on the site of Orange Beach Elementary. It’s going to be worked where there’s not going to be any interaction with the elementary school.
“So there is going to be a village there, maybe 15 portables – something like that. And then we’ll transition them to the new high school. I know portables is a bad word sometimes, especially depends on what part of the county you live in, but we’re doing this for a purpose.”
Concerning the ongoing school system separation negotiations with Gulf Shores, Tyler shared the following on Wednesday, September 26:
“I will tell you that it’s been the board’s position from the time we started talking, that juniors and seniors could basically remain in Gulf Shores High School. That’s our position. That’s been out there publically, 6-8 months, 10 months, you know. If you’re going to be a rising sophomore and junior, you’re going to be a junior and senior next fall at Gulf Shores High School because there’s not going to be anything here that can really be offered to you based on what you are doing right now, whether it’s a large band or it’s some of those junior- or senior-level courses or it’s athletics that you’re competing in that you’ve been competing in for several years. So it just makes sense to leave those students alone. It’s all about children. We’re excited for them, we just want to make sure the start is good and whatever children are there, that the children are taken care of.’’