OPINION COLUMNS

All Around Wise: Surprised by lack of decision

By Richard Greene | Published Saturday, March 30, 2019
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My wise sophomore reporting professor Keith Shelton told our class many moons ago to never show up to a meeting and not know how a vote would go.

Monday night, I violated the great Shelton’s golden rule. It was not on the main headline from the meeting – the contract of Decatur ISD Superintendent Judi Whitis – because there was no vote or action.

Richard Greene

But really that was the secondary issue of the night when compared to the high school construction, a decision with more lasting impact than who is at central administration.

I was surprised to see the project tabled after trustees received the guaranteed maximum price of $4.12 million from builder Steele and Freeman and a debate waged on what was needed in the district.

This just happened to be the latest turn in an endless circle that has proved costly for the district. It has paid $97,836 for architect fees for the proposed 12-classroom addition at the high school. The total architect fees for the project are expected to be more than $300,000. The district paid $192,609 on architect fees for the athletic improvements that were not pursued.

“I hate that we’ve spent all the money on the architects,” said trustee Charlie Tibbels. “I’ve been on the board for 10 months, and it’s gone from the athletic stuff to now this thing. I don’t think we’ve ever put a finger on what’s absolutely necessary to do.”

After a year of facility workshops, building tours and discussion, that’s the most discouraging thing. The board still doesn’t know what improvements are most needed, and this latest about-face highlights their breakdowns in communication.

In January, the board voted to move ahead with developing plans for the classroom addition and possible renovations at the high school. Two months later, the target seemed to have moved.

Yes, some worries about costs are warranted. But reducing the scope, which will lose some of the economy of scale, or a longer delay on a decision will not lower the costs.

Tibbels was likely right about his assertion that a bond to fully address the district’s facility needs may not float in the current climate. The latest indecision does not help.

While they used pending legislative action as an excuse to not commit money to the project, it could be even more complicated in the future because some of those same legislators want to move all elections to November. If that happens, trying to pass bonds and the subsequent construction could be tougher and more expensive due to all schools getting in the market at the same time once per year.

On April 15, we’ll see what’s next and hopefully I can redeem myself.

Richard Greene is the Messenger editor.

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