— By JUDY SHERIDAN
In a reversal of a 5-2 vote in February that ran counter to the recommendations of school administrators, Aledo ISD trustees voted 5-0 in March to hire VLK Architects to design both an expansion of the Aledo Learning Center and a secure high school vestibule.
Voting in favor of the contract with VLK were board members Bobby Rigues, Jay Stringer, Johnny Campbell, Steve Bartley and Dr. David Tillman. Trustees Hoyt Harris and David Davis were absent.
This month’s contract stipulated the same reimbursement for the longtime architect, 6 percent of the project construction costs.
Unlike February’s contract, however, this one did not earmark all $4 million in funds remaining from a 2008 bond issue for the projects, with the remainder slated for architectural services for future unidentified projects.
The type of construction and detailed diagrams for the learning center were not shown in detail, as in earlier presentations, and a procurement method for construction was not officially recommended, although two methods were discussed.
Superintendent Dan Manning began by saying that the Aledo Learning Center building, which houses both a drop out and recovery program — called the learning center — and a state-mandated discipline alternative education program (DAEP), has “unique and growing needs.”
The learning center has four classrooms, with 24 students currently and a waiting list for more, he said, which could lengthen with projected growth and new testing mandates.
“With the large number of additional end-of-course tests that started last year for our ninth-grade students, we believe that’s going to present a challenge for the space that we currently have,” he said.
Manning said the building has two classrooms for the DAEP program, which tends to grow in the spring.
“The number of students fluctuates almost on a weekly basis from about 20 to five,” he said. “I feel like there will be space needed there soon.”
Manning also reminded trustees of the need for a secure entry for the high school. He said using the same construction contractor for both projects would save money.
“Now, before we can begin anything as far as design, pricing, any of those things,” he said, “the first thing we must do is hire an architect, and then, after we hire an architect, we can select what we feel as a board is the best design and cost for that project.”
Manning read from the Texas Government Code, quoting that a school district must select and award a contract for professional services on the basis of demonstrated competence and qualifications.
“VLK has done excellent work for us,” he said, “and, because they did the original design at the learning center, it made good sense to use them now, as well.”
He said the schematics shown by VLK in the last few months were only intended to give an idea of what was being talked about, and the prices quoted were conceptual, not official.
“We’ll decide the scope and size of the project after we select an architect, and certainly the board will have the ability to do that.” he said. “The final pricing will be known after we select the procurement method, or how we decide to bid the project.”
“In the last presentation, there was reference to the $4 million bond that was still available and making it over to the architect in the whole amount,” Bartley said. “Are we doing that again this session?”
“No,” Manning said. “We are just recommending these two projects.”
Tillman asked if the 6 percent fee included the architect’s intial drawings, as well following the construction process all the way through, which Manning affirmed.
“One of the clarifications I was really working on had to do with deciding whether or not to do a project before you hire an architect and start designing a project,” Campbell offered, explaining his earlier objections. “I wasn’t clear on the first step first.
“With the waiting list which we have, with the addition of these end-of-course and STAAR changes that are coming in our testing and with time, is it fair to say that though the district may not have grown at the rate we’re planning for in the use of this facility, with these other pressures that are anticipated there’s going to be a lot more demand for this service in the coming years?”
Manning said that was true, and the district would be short-sighted to limit the expansion to the growth projected just a few years into the future. He assured Campbell that the board would have a chance to weigh in on the building’s design.
The superintendent also lined out the advantages and disadvantages of two common procurement methods for construction: competitive sealed proposals and construction manager at-risk.
He said administrators will recommend the construction manager at-risk method at the April 15 meeting because it offers the most freedom to select the appropriate contractor and protects the district from cost overruns.