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High school construction plans on hold

By Michael Butler

The Tallassee School Board met on Wednesday night and opted to reject bids on building a new high school.

"The decision comes down to several factors," superintendent Wade Shipman said. "We opened bids on March 31. We had 30 days. All the bids came within 10 percent of each other. The low bid was still about $3 million over our projected budget. Between that and the coronavirus in terms of the uncertainty it's created, education is likely to be greatly affected."

Shipman spoke of the impact the virus could have on sales tax dollars.

"That's where we get our local funds. We've had some of these conversations going into this project. When you go into a bond for 25 or 30 years, you know there are going to be some economic downturns. You don't expect it on day one."

The decision by the board is by no means a dead end to a new high school, but when construction might begin is still up in the air.

"We are likely to have some more work sessions to decide what we want to do. The prudent thing to do is to be ready. We look at some of things that we valued to engineer. Are those things we can do without? If they are, then we resubmit those plans and have another bid ready to go when we're ready to go."

Shipman added that the school system has not yet gotten the money to go forward with the project although bond funding has been approved.

"We've invested in this project. I think what we have is a good plan. We're not looking at this happening at the beginning of the next school year. That's obvious. The question is, would there be a mid-year start point or do we start in February or March of next year?"

State budgets for education should be released this month. The dollars to be received on sales tax revenues is unknown, especially with the state of the economy.

"What is the impact of what we're going through econmically? We don't know. We're not going to know for months if not years. Are we looking at a 2008 recession? Are we looking at the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression? It's delayed our decision making for good reason.

"What if we were neck deep in construction? I kind of count that as good fortune that we haven't done those things. Are we wanting to build a school regardless of any circumstance? I don't think that's the case. Being a good steward of our money means we're going to make decisions at the right time."

Photo by Kyle Thornton

Teacher Appreciation Week is May 4-8.

"We want to do something for our teachers, really all of our staff," Shipman said. "It's been such a crazy year anyway. We're asking the public to put a purple ribbon out to signify appreciation. We're planning a meal that (staff) can come in and pick up with social distancing."

The Tallassee High School Senior Awards will now be a virtual event on May 7. Shipman said it is looking more likely that something similar could be put in place for graduation although no decision has been finalized.

"It depends on if the governor or Dr. Mackey will ease up restrictions. That's not happened at this point. We're moving forward with the idea that some of these kids need to be able to move on and make their plans for the summer and next fall.

"I've talked with principal (Matt) Coker. We think it will be some kind of virtual ceremony. We may be able to bring in smaller groups with a small staged ceremony for families and small groups. We don't have anything firm yet."