BAKER — The Baker School Board voted 3-2 Tuesday to terminate the district's contract with Tillage Construction, which has been working with the school system on disaster recovery, grants management, and construction planning on Baker High School since the school was damaged by the 2016 flood.
The board also voted 4-1 to begin negotiating a contract with The Coleman Consulting Group LLC to be the Federal Emergency Management Agency Recovery/Loss Consultant for the school district.
No contract or draft of a contract for Coleman was available Tuesday night.
Since the flood damage to Baker High School, the high school students have been housed at Baker Middle, with the middle school students occupying Bakerfield Elementary’s campus and Bakerfield students sharing space with Baker Heights Elementary.
Board members Vanessa Parker, Sharious Booker and Shona Boxie voted in favor of terminating the contract with Tillage Construction, with Joyce Burges and Elaine Davis casting the dissenting votes. Davis was the only board member to vote against negotiating a contract with The Coleman Consulting Group.
School Board attorney Winston DeCuir explained that since the proposed contract with Coleman would be for less than $50,000 and for fewer than 12 months, the board is not required by state law to send out a request for proposals.
“My concern is that this is taking so long," Boxie said. "We have a construction contract and no construction is going on. If we keep renewing this contract and we are still not moving forward, then we aren’t going toward anything.”
Davis accused the other board members of purposely skirting the law to get the contractor they want.
“When the board starts to negotiate this contract without an RFP, I don’t want to be part of it,” Davis said.
She added that hiring a new consultant would set the project back 60-90 days.
“It’s already been three years,” Booker countered.
The reason the new high school hasn’t been built is that the school district does not have the money, Davis said.
She reminded the board that two years ago, the district applied for a loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture that promised a low interest rate; however, the application has yet to be accepted.
Until that money is available, no building can begin, Davis said.
“The $10-12 million we have already borrowed is for disaster recovery and can only be used for that," she said. "We have $5 million from FEMA for a new building and $1.2 million for contents. We have to get a loan.”
Estimates on the cost of a new Baker High have ranged from $14.5 million to $22 million.
Bridgette Coleman of Coleman consulting told the board that her company had been part of a consortium with Tillage with the Baker School District on the disaster recovery. She said her company broke off from the agreement with Tillage in February for personal reasons.
Coleman advised the board to give up on the idea of building a new Baker High and instead work to restore the existing building with the aim of finishing sooner and at a lower cost.
She also promised to seek other grants for the school district.
The district has already paid Tillage $700,000 for engineering surveys, blueprints, designs and other work and does not owe them any more money at this time, Schools Superintendent Herman Brister said.
The school district is required to give Tillage 30 days notice on termination, according to the district's contract with the company.
Last month, the board vote 3-1 to extend their contract with Tillage until June 2020. Parker, Boxie and Davis voted for the contract extension and Booker voted against. Burges was absent.
Editor's note: This article was changed on Wednesday, July 9, to note that the vote to negotiate a contract with The Coleman Consulting Group was 4-1, and that Elaine Davis cast the dissenting vote.