By RICK HAYES
MT. VERNON — —
Members of the Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce's President's Council are wanting to know if the design plans for the new Mt. Vernon Township High School have changed since the voter-approved referendum, and if so, will it result in additional costs.
The Council met to rebut a newspaper account late last week that provided information from Superintendent Mike Smith on the school project. In that account, Smith said that taxpayers would not be saddled with additional costs associated with the construction of the new school.
"During the referendum time we had these drawings and plans of parking lots, ideas, cost estimates. Quite frankly, it's all different," said Chamber Executive Director Brandon Bullard. "We're excited about the good changes in Mt. Vernon and a new school. This Council worked very hard on the referendum and we're proud of what we did," he added.
"No matter what this thing costs, the $19.8 million is all the taxpayers will be responsible for. We know we can generate more than $19.8 million in local revenue," Smith said in the article.
"Plan B is the one that is circulating. If that comes in at $70 million and they don't raise money, if he (Smith) has to chop off $8 million on Plan B, now we've got Plan C. The people who were involved in the referendum, including this Council and the Chamber, are very concerned about how different Plan C is — the final product — compared to Plan A that we sold to the public," Bullard said. "From what I've seen, those two plans are pretty different."
He added, "This Council is still supportive of the high school. If they need us to do something, we will help. We've very positive and we want it to happen. We just want to be right for our membership but the taxpayers too."
"If we can build it (the school) for $62 million, let's go to work tomorrow," said Mike Beard, who appeared before the MVTHS Board of Education at a meeting earlier this month, asking questions during a prepared statement. Those questions were answered, according to Board President Carl Miller. "If you can do for $62 million, then go," added Brett Hall. "Let's do it."
"Mike (Smith) made a comment that the school doesn't look that much different, and there was no plan, all the school had was a render. I can tell you when you do a render, you do it from a plan," said Brenda Malone. "There was a plan in the first referendum, there was plan for the second referendum. We need to compare that to where we are now. He (Smith) completely redesigned the plan of the school on a napkin and took that to the architect. They have redrawn it from a square building … to a curved building. It is not as cost effective to build a curved line as it is to build a straight line. I don't believe the voters are aware of it, and I don't believe that is what they voted on, approved or asked for. Never did they request a prototype school."
"If the increased costs of putting in these round walls, then it's manpower from foundation to ceiling. If we have millions of dollars to design this thing with curved walls, if we could straighten the walls and put in an extra gym or put something in that's going to add education value to our students, I would rather see our money spent there than in designing a round school," Hall said.
"We were sold on the concept that this is what it's going to look like somewhere else. Personally, I don't want to tell them how to build a high school, but that's not the way it was told to us. We were deceived I think," added Terry Sharp. "I want the school to be built. I want to be for the most bang for the buck. We just have apprehensions."
Council member Greg Simms contributed, "My concern is that with their ability from an ongoing basis with the cap that they continue to raise taxes over the long term to pay for that gap between the $19.8 million the voters approved to what he (Smith) says now is $24.8 which is another $5 million. The tax increase wasn't supposed to kick in until 2013 and all of a sudden we get a tax increase in 2012."
"This Council endorsed the new high school because of the what we felt it would bring to the quality education in Mt. Vernon. One of the concerns is this new design, is it being built with the best possible education in mind for the students. I don't care what the building looks like as long as we're within budget but is that being taken under consideration with this design?" asked Hank Villani. "In the end that's what we endorsed and that's what we want to see happen."