— By JUDY SHERIDAN
A strong recommendation from Aledo ISD officials that the school board choose longtime partner VLK Architects to design an expansion of the Aledo Learning Center and a restructured high school vestibule drew little support at last week’s board meeting as trustees voted 5-2 to down the proposal.
Trustees Johnny Campbell, Steve Bartley, Hoyt Harris, Jay Stringer and David Davis voted against securing the services of VLK Architects for the two projects, as well as for others that have not been identified.
Board President Bobby Rigues and trustee Dr. David Tillman voted in favor of approving a contract with VLK Architects.
Under terms of the proposed agreement, the board would have earmarked all the remaining funds from the 2008 bond issue — $4 million — for the design and construction of the learning center and vestibule, applying the remainder toward architectural services for future unspecified projects.
Construction costs are estimated at $2.7 million to more than double the size of the learning center and at about $155,000 to reroute traffic and tighten security in the high school vestibule. The contract specified the architect would receive 6 percent of the construction costs.
After some discussion, as trustees moved closer to a vote, Campbell asked about the architect’s fee, the administration’s strategy and whether the contract would allow the board to consider alternates to the architect’s preliminary design for the learning center.
“Why wouldn’t we, rather than sign on for all the money in the bank, just hire the architect for the projects we’re talking about doing right now,” Campbell asked.
“I don’t know that we will spend anything more than the projects we’re talking about now,” Husfeld replied. “It was just, in my mind, an ease of consideration.”
Superintendent Dan Manning added that the projects would be small in scope and nature, because there would be little left to fund them.
“I’m wondering how it would work in this contract if we wanted to take a look at some of those other options, say the pre-engineered building,” Campbell continued, “so that we could determine the premium we would be paying for the aesthetically improved version.”
Husfeld said the contract targeted obtaining the services of VLK for whatever design the school board ultimately chose.
He said it did not stipulate the type of construction.
Leesa Vardeman, principal of VLK, agreed that architects would look at alternate designs.
Rigues interjected that he was uncomfortable with letting one person alter the course of a plan that had already been presented with a recommendation from the administration.
“This is an action item [at this point],” he said. “Our choice is to accept it or not accept it, not to intervene and make alterations in the process.”
“The question I asked allows for alternate consideration; to me that is right down the fairway,” Campbell replied. “That’s information that’s needed to decide this question, I think.”
Husfeld touted the high qualifications and demonstrated competence of the architectural firm, which has worked for with district for more than a decade.
He said VLK has already spent time — without pay — preparing the preliminary designs and took some risk in doing so, another reason for including a contingency in the contract.
Rigues said school policy treats architects much like legal counsel because there is a similar relationship between them and school officials.
Manning reminded the board that the law stipulates that an architect be hired when undertaking school construction projects.
Stringer, contacted after the vote, said he opposed the proposal because he didn’t receive enough information on construction options, aesthetics and design costs.
“I didn’t want to get the ball rolling, not knowing,” he said.
Vardeman said she was surprised by the board’s decision, but not concerned.
“I think they haven’t been able to articulate their concerns,” she said. “There were a lot of different comments, not a consistent voice.”
Vardeman said VLK began working with the board in 2002 and has completed all the district’s projects under budget and on time.
Those projects include classroom additions to Stuard Elementary, the middle school and high school, the learning center, the agriculture barn, the football stadium and athletic campus, the technology/police building, the Don Daniel Ninth Grade campus, McCall Elementary and replacing the synthetic turf at what is now the middle school track.