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New Security Project Costs $1.7 Million for Five Schools in the Francis Howell School District

On+Feb.+8%2C+the+FHSD+Board+of+Education+met+at+their+monthly+meeting+with+patrons+discussing+the+ongoing+spotlight+that+has+been+on+the+Board+over+the+last+few+months.
Credit to Eashaan Patel
On Feb. 8, the FHSD Board of Education met at their monthly meeting with patrons discussing the ongoing spotlight that has been on the Board over the last few months.

The FHSD Board of Education recently approved a project which would, among other purposes, see the construction of security vestibules at five district schools—though not without a steep price tag.

On Feb. 8, the FHSD Board of Education convened for their regular February business meeting. Before the Board contemplated a variety of issues, such as how to implement administrator performance metrics, a plan for measuring the success of intervention-level math programs, and the cost effectiveness of the district’s language-translation services, another item on the agenda was mentioned during public comments.

Kirk Wolf, the first speaker, raised objections to agenda item 9(E), relating to bids to construct security vestibules at five buildings of the district. While the project had originally been estimated at just short of $830,000, the administration was now recommending accepting a bid that exceeded $1.7 million.

“Here we have what feels to me like deja vu,” Wolf said. “A project that is suddenly more than 96 percent over the estimates provided three months ago by Hoener & Associates and our project manager.”

Wolf went on to recognize that the Board was in a tight spot.

“Your immediate concern here tonight is to decide between two bad choices,” Wolf said. “Either one, delay the project; or two, continue it at almost double the cost estimates.”

Finally, Wolf warned that, while it may be tempting to accept the bids just to get the matter done and get the projects started, accepting such a steep price tag might set harmful precedent.

“If you send a message that you will accept these kind of blown estimates, then that’s all you’ll get going forward,” Wolf said. “[The Board ought to] ask our facilities director to come up with a temporary plan for enhancing security at the five schools, and give him the task of delivering this project under some reasonable margin over the original estimate, like 20 or 25 percent.”

Vice-President Randy Cook, who would later vote to accept the bid, spoke up to explain his vote.

“We’re being asked to approve a project that’s almost twice as much as what our architect estimated,” Cook said. “The question I’ve struggled with since learning about the bids is whether I still would have voted to move forward with it these past several months if we knew that the estimate was $1.7 [million] all along. I think the answer is yes.”

Cook, while of the opinion that the project was of benefit even with the increase in price, seemed to agree with Wolf that the district should look for a new provider for architectural services.

“We’ve had a long relationship with Hoener,” Cook said. “But it might be time—I think it’s time—to just see what else is out there.”

Cook underscored the paramount importance of safety as causing the necessity of the project.

“We identified this as a security priority and that was our decision,” Cook said. “Student safety, obviously, it’s almost unspoken, it’s such a top priority. That said, we could spend billions to make every school like Fort Knox, but I think we all recognize that’s not practical. But I do think that this particular improvement is not overkill and I think it’s unfortunately necessary in 2024.”

The next public board meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. on March 22 at the central office building.

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