Pinellas moving ahead with school construction projects

LARGO — The Pinellas County School Board gave unanimous approval Feb. 11 to agreements for three construction projects totaling nearly $20 million.

The projects are part of an initiative that began in 2016 when the district embarked on a five-year plan with five basic goals, said Associate Superintendent Clint Herbic, who is in charge of the division of facilities and operations. All three projects meet the five goals, which are:

1. Ensure enhanced construction of spaces.

2. Elimination of “portable cities” at some elementary schools.

3. Update older facilities.

4. Ensure schools are safe.

5. Continue a high level of maintenance.

The board first approved a $3.5 million agreement with Hepner Architects Inc. in Tampa for architectural and construction administrative services for new construction, renovations and remodeling at Clearwater High School.

Herbic said the goal of the $54 million project is renovation of about 25% of the classrooms to make sure they are up to the standards needed for the school’s career academies.

He said construction plans call for taking down most of the “finger wing buildings” and rebuilding some of the classrooms.

The front of the campus will be reoriented to face Gulf to Bay Boulevard. Herbic said the district is working with the city of Clearwater to beautify that section of Gulf to Bay so people driving by would see a beautiful font entrance to the campus.

The administration building will be moved to the front entrance and the Career Adult Education Center will take over that space.

The second project tackles the goal of eliminating what Herbic calls “portable cities” throughout the district. The board approved amendment No. 1 to an agreement with Williamson Dacar Associates in Clearwater for architectural and contract administration services in connection with reusable prototype classroom buildings.

The approval brings the fee for architect/engineer services to $890,203 for work at North Shore Elementary School, James B. Sanderlin Elementary and Shore Acres Elementary.

School Superintendent Michael Grego said this was an important project and pointed out that some of the portable classrooms around the district had been in use as long as 15 years.

“We need to build hard buildings at our schools,” he said.

He said while only three schools were on the list now, staff also is looking at using prototype classroom buildings at several elementary schools, including Anona, Bauder, Gulf Beaches, Mildred Helms, Plumb, Sawgrass and Seminole, as well as Osceola High School and Pasadena Fundamental.

Herbic compared prototype classrooms to Legos, saying a basic classroom pod could be assembled to provide classrooms in multiples of two to match the unique needs of different school campuses. They can be placed in a straight line, curves and even stacked.

He said using the prototype process allows construction and design to occur at a quicker pace and is more efficient for the architect and the construction company.

The last approval was for amendment No. 6 to an agreement with JE Dunn Construction Company in Kansas City, Missouri for the second phase of work at the Richard O. Jacobson Technical High School in Seminole. The agreement is for a guaranteed maximum price of $4.6 million for construction and contract administration for a veterinary science building. The total guaranteed maximum price for the project is $15.2 million.

Grego praised the progress made thus far at the new school known as “Tech High.” He said it already has full enrollment and a waiting list. He said its benefactor and namesake, Richard O. Jacobson, would be pleased. Jacobson is credited with making the largest donation ever, $5 million, to bring about a partnership between the district and Pinellas Education Foundation that led to initial construction of Tech High.

Need for bonding

Herbic said to pay for the projects, a second round of bonding may be needed. Additional bonding will be discussed at a board workshop on Feb. 18.

School board member Nicole Carr asked the reasoning behind approving funding for the projects before the workshop. Associate Superintendent Kevin Smith, who heads finance and building services, explained that the board had discussed the need for multiple rounds of bonding back in 2017.

Carr asked why a “pay as you go district” had started to use bonding in the first place. Grego explained early in the meeting that the district had a pressing need to do something to improve aging infrastructure on an accelerated basis. Bonding allows projects to get done quicker.

Smith said Pinellas had the lowest amount of bonding of any district in the state and would still be the lowest if a second round is approved.

He said he would be bringing a resolution of reimbursement for the board to consider at its workshop. The resolution allows the school district to incur expenses for projects then pay itself back from future bond proceeds.

The district bonded about $65 million in 2017 that mostly went to fund three projects: Pinellas Park Middle School, Melrose Elementary in St. Petersburg and Richard O. Jacobson Technical High School in Seminole.

Herbic said those projects were now coming to a close and it was time to move forward with new projects, including the second project at Tech High (Jacobson High School).

In the next few months, grand re-openings will be scheduled at Pinellas Park Middle School and Melrose Elementary, he said.

Several other projects are already underway at Tyrone Middle School, Northeast High School, Meadowlawn Middle School, San Jose Elementary, St. Petersburg High School and the second phase of a project at Lakewood High School.

Source: Tampa Bay Newspapers