BY MIKE FUHRMAN

The architect for Iredell-Statesville Schools’ new high school has recommended that the I-SS Board of Education select Monteith Construction for the project and approve the contractor’s bid of $143.3 million.

“We found that their qualifications and the associated project scope for their bid are in order and satisfactory to perform the work for the Iredell-Statesville Schools – Weathers Creek High School,” Adams + Associates Architecture President David D. Morais wrote in his recommendation.

The I-SS Board is expected to consider approving the bid, which includes $141.4 million for the base bid and an additional $1.9 million for several add-on projects, when it meets on Monday evening.

Monteith Construction’s total bid came in about $800,000 below Cleveland Construction’s total bid of $144.19 million and about $2.5 million below Swinerton’s bid of $145.79 million.

‘This is an investment in our kids and future’

I-SS Superintendent Jeff James said getting to this point has seemed like an “insurmountable challenge” at times, but he is proud of the collaborative efforts of district staff and county staff to build a school during a time of massive inflation.

“The bid included all amenities and the winning bid, if approved by I-SS, includes the willingness to work with us and the county over the next three years to complete construction,” James said.

“This is not just a school. High schools have become educational campuses and serve our community well beyond instruction. This school, when finished, will be a hub for the community from sports and performing arts to a STEM magnet aeronautics facility.”

Representatives of local business and industry groups have been involved with the planning and design “to provide another innovation campus to not only educate but continue to elevate Iredell County as an economic powerhouse,” James said.

“Whether you have kids in our schools or not, the proof is simple. All of us win when we have a prepared workforce that attracts major corporations,” he added. “This is an investment in our kids and future for all of us. I consider this a momentous win for everyone in Iredell.”

“It’s just not acceptable’

County commissioners have been unimpressed with the district’s handling of the Weathers Creek project since March of 2020, when voters reproved an $80 million bond referendum to pay for the new high school.

More than four years later, they remain unimpressed.

When commissioners agreed to borrow an additional $40 million for the project, the board conceded that the school could not be built for the $80 million that voters had approved.

Based on their reaction to the bids, they do not sound like a group inclined to spend more than $120 million.

“It doesn’t look like the school district is willing to cut back on anything, so I’m not willing to give anything more at this time,” Commissioner Scottie Brown said. “I’m waiting to see how Cabarrus County is building a 1,800-pupil school for $115 million.”

Commissioner Brad Stroud said he is eager to see the actual bids and talk with the architect to see if there is any “fat” that can be trimmed to bring the cost down.

“We drew a pretty hard line in the sand,” Stroud said. “Is anybody going to go against that?”

Stroud pointed out that the winning bid does not include furniture, fixtures and electronics, necessities that could add up to $20 million more to the total cost.

Board of Commissioners Chair Melissa Neader said the I-SS Board and staff need to live within their budget, which is currently $120 million.

“The high school is important, but it by no means is the last need/request of I-SS,” she said.

“Just drive around and look at growth. Cities and towns are exploding with roof tops. We are already saving for an elementary school. I-SS has confirmed that need and it is obvious. But projects cannot continue to come in way over budget. It’s just not acceptable.”

Commissioner Gene Houpe said he was pleased that the bids were closer to $120 million than some of the earlier estimates, which were in the $200 million range.

But, Houpe said, the school district and county need to work together to review the bids and find ways to bring the cost down.

“We are a top-two county in the state for economic growth and ours schools play a vital role in training our workforce so business and industry continues to come to our county, providing great jobs,” he said.

“I appreciate everyone’s work on these bids. With the growth comes many challenges that we all have to continue to navigate through.”

Vice Chair Bert Connolly has been the most vocal critic on the Board of Commissioners when it comes to this project.

“The project approved by the voters in early 2020 was for $80 million and look at what we have,” Connolly said. “MGSD middle school was approved in the same bond package and fully opened last year.

“We cannot go back in the past so now we have to sharpen our pencils and do what should have been done from the start back in 2020 and get real since finally it comes to the commissioners and that’s exactly what we will do,” he added. “We will have a new high school and it will be nice, but it’s got to be what the taxpayers can afford. I hope and pray that the I-SS Board will move on from the past issues/drama within between some of the members and focus on not only working with us on the high school but also the very near future elementary school. Our taxpayers, I-SS faculty, and students hang in the balance.”

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