BAKER — The Baker School Board voted unanimously Tuesday night to approve a contract with Manning Architects of New Orleans to renovate Baker High School, which was damaged during the historic flooding in August.
Since the flood, Baker High students have been attending classes at Baker Middle School, the Middle School students are at Bakerfield Elementary, and Bakerfield and Baker Heights Elementary students are combined on the Baker Heights campus.
The board chose Manning after holding a formal bidding process earlier in the month.
Superintendent Herman Brister confirmed that the district has decided not to tear down and completely rebuild the school, an option that Tillage Construction, the company overseeing the project for the district, had brought up early in the process.
The architectural firm's contract is based on a $12 million estimate for the total project, excluding $940,000 to be paid to Tillage and the estimated $887,000 architect's fee, which could change, depending on the final construction costs.
Kevin Tillage, who represented the construction company at Tuesday's meeting, along with School Board attorney Winston DeCuir, presented the board with two contracts to choose from: one estimating the renovation would cost $12 million and the second putting the cost at $10 million.
The reason for drawing up two contracts was that the architect's fee had to be based on the construction cost, DeCuir explained.
Soon after the flood, the district presented the Federal Emergency Management Agency with an estimate of $12 million for renovating the school. FEMA agreed to that assessment and said it would pay 90 percent of the cost of construction.
The district secured loans for the entire $12 million based on FEMA's promise, with the district agreeing to pay back any amount not covered by FEMA.
If the construction ends up costing more than $12 million, the school district will have to approach FEMA again with a new estimate.
If FEMA approves the increase, the district would approach lenders again and ask for another loan.
The board's decision was whether to ask the architect to design a $12 million school, knowing that the total cost of the project would be at least that much, including the architect and construction management fees, or more conservatively design a $10 million school, leaving $2 million available for the other expenses, DeCuir said.
"Ten million won't get it for us. We have to go with the $12 million contract. Hopefully, FEMA will see the needs of the district and reimburse us," board member Elaine Davis said, when she made the motion to accept the contract with the higher estimate.
Brister raised the possibility that extra construction costs could be absorbed by the school district's general fund, but said that he did not anticipate a problem in getting a larger loan from lenders if needed.
Company representatives for Tillage estimated at a May 2 meeting that it would cost $20 million to rebuild the school.
At that meeting, the contractor projected that students would be able to return to Baker High by June 2019; however, on Tuesday, Tillage changed the timeline for the project to 18 months, which would have students in renovated buildings by December 2018.
Another meeting with school officials, Tillage and Manning to discuss the contract and the renovation is scheduled for Friday.