The St. James Board of Education is committed to the community, most importantly to our children and the spaces in which they learn and grow with us. However, we are also committed to serving the hard-working, dedicated constituents who entrust us to be responsible stewards of their resources and children’s future. The past few months have been challenging, but also exciting and rewarding. We, along with our partners on the construction project, have been working tirelessly to deliver on our promises and seize on the opportunities afforded to us by your support of the bond issue in April of last year. The construction project that has been developed over the past year and half recently bid and came in higher than expected, mostly due to a rapidly expanding construction market and increasing material and labor costs over the past twelve months. Monday evening of this week, the St. James Board of Education held a special meeting to discuss these obstacles and to finalize plans to move forward with the long awaited building projects. As a reminder, we had three main items selected by our patrons to complete. These three items were to equip and furnish a performing arts auditorium at the high school, construct an early childhood at the elementary, and make high school renovation improvements. We did not feel we could choose one project over the others. All three are important to our patrons and we are determined to appropriately complete each of them.
The Board and administration understand the community has high expectations, and in turn, we have high expectations for this project. A high level of quality has been and will remain a priority, and the Board has expended a lot of energy in doing its due diligence discussing these higher costs in depth and carefully reviewing various options to address them. Ultimately, the Board agreed that keeping a balanced focus on the present and the future and keeping a long term perspective is the best course of action. Although the final cost of the project is going to be considerably higher than we originally anticipated, the Board set aside contingency funds for overages so we will have buildings we will be proud of and will be able to appropriately support the educational needs of our children. Initial estimates were that all items could be completed for close to the $12M we asked for in the bond issue proposal. Since these initial estimates, the economy has picked up significantly and pent up demand for construction. Additionally, business expansion has fueled an explosion in construction which has inflated construction costs even more. Based on current economic and construction forecasts, delaying the project further will only result in a higher cost and could easily push the projects completely out of reach for several years. Delaying the High School renovation risks additional deterioration of the original high school building to the point that renovation would not be possible and could actually place our students and staff at risk. The Board has laboriously worked with Dake | Wells to remove any “fluff” from the designs and concentrated on the district’s needs. We have reduced the scope of the project as much as possible without losing functionality so that we may still complete the essential needs of the district. The Board tried to find ways to complete the renovation in stages as a way to spread the total costs over a longer period of time, but was unable to find viable alternatives.
The City of St. James has been extremely helpful and supportive in identifying ways to control costs while still performing the necessary infrastructure improvements to support the impact of the building additions. The Board has also worked with our financial consultant, Larry Hart & Company to identify the best way to fund the additional costs and we are confident we will keep the district on a solid financial footing during construction and beyond. Although we will be spending contingency funds, at no time will the quality of education and/or extracurricular opportunities be sacrificed because of this construction endeavor.
The exciting part is that the Board is united in its belief that the projects planned and bid are smart and solve a lot of challenges facing the district both today and in the foreseeable future. Ultimately, the Board agreed to not only pursue the building projects, but to add separate district funds to the project to create the highest quality learning spaces for our children in sustainable, long-term solutions for the district. The time to move forward is now, and we are excited to be able to inform voters that we have approved the building projects at both the elementary and high school. We appreciate your continued support and hope you share in our enthusiasm as construction begins this summer!
We believe that these are projects that the community can and will be proud of! I am personally glad a decision was made and I am excited and ready for the construction to get started so we can take advantage of this beautiful summer weather. Monday night was a great evening for present and future Tigers!!!