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Schools: Work on bond projects will start this year

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

The firm that helped the Georgetown County School District identify $165 million in renovations and additions to its facilities was awarded a contract this week to manage the construction. Work should start by the fall on some projects, and may start this summer, Superintendent Randy Dozier said.

M.B. Kahn and Construction of Columbia was one of four finalists considered by the district. It will receive $5.7 million over the next four years to manage the projects approved by voters in a November bond referendum. The district is paying off bonds issued after a 1997 referendum. It will replace those with new bonds for the current work and there will be no change to the property tax for debt service.

The facilities plan includes construction of auxiliary gyms at each of the four high schools. In addition, Waccamaw High will get a new chorus room, computer lab and science lab. Waccamaw Intermediate will get a gym and a new music room. But most of the work won’t be visible to anyone outside the schools. Over 20 percent of the total project cost is for improvements to heating and cooling systems. And there is $19.1 million for technology improvements.

The work is spread around the district’s 19 schools and other facilities. Even Coastal Montessori Charter School, which hadn’t opened when the referendum was approved, is due to get $2 million for unspecified improvements.

“We’ve given them a list of things we’d like to see first,” Dozier said. “I don’t anticipate borrowing or ground-breaking until summer or fall.” Kahn’s will have to balance the construction schedule with the district’s bonding capacity as well as packaging the projects to appeal to bidders. “They’re good at that,” Dozier said.

“One of my big concerns was: Do we have enough contractors to adequately bid on these projects?” School Board Member Richard Kerr said, noting that Horry, Charleston and Berkeley county schools all have construction under way. He believes that Kahn has the ability to attract bidders.

The firm has done work in 60 of the state’s 81 school districts, said Lisa Ackerman, the director of procurement for Georgetown County Schools. “Their references are superlative,” she said. “They have a fantastic reputation.”

Bill Cram, Kahn’s construction manager for Georgetown County, said the first focus will be on safety, since some work will take place during the school year. After that, the firm will deliver the work on time, within budget and at high quality, he said.

Kerr, who served on the committee that reviewed the firms that applied, said the agreed price for Kahn’s management was “a significant difference” from what the firm sought initially. He said the company may also bid on providing additional services during the process. “You want as much competition as you can possibly get,” Kerr said. It will be up to the district to ensure that happens.

Dozier said the district considered managing the construction in-house. That would have required adding staff and the overall cost was about the same. In addition, the district would have had all the liability. The management contract shifts the liability to Kahn.

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