Board Spars Over FMS Project

WINNSBORO – The Fairfield County School Board came a step closer to proceeding with an estimated $2.4 million expansion and renovation for Fairfield Middle School during its May 17 meeting. However, the project has not yet been brought to the Board to be authorized.

During their Jan. 19 meeting, the Board voted 5-1-1 to approve a contract with FW Architects of Florence for engineering and design work to expand Fairfield Middle and Kelly Miller Elementary so that portable classrooms could be removed. Paula Hartman (District 2) voted against the approval, while Annie McDaniel (District 4) abstained.

The plans call for more than 10,000 square feet in new construction at Fairfield Middle with renovations to another 473 square feet in order to tie into the existing school. According a presentation made by the architectural firm at the May Board meeting, the new construction will include collaborative learning spaces that could accommodate different activities.

Dr. J.R. Green, Superintendent, told the Board he wanted to let the Board know the estimated costs before it was put out to bid.

A number of questions about the project ensued after Director of Finance Kevin Robinson presented Green’s recommendation that the Board approve a second reading of the District budget for the 2016 – 2017 fiscal year.

“Since we are talking about the budget, where is the money for the Fairfield Middle School renovation coming from?” Hartman asked.

“We will get to that when we discuss it further,” Board Chairwoman Beth Reid (District 7) answered.

“So when are we are going to discuss it?” McDaniel asked.

“When it is presented to us,” Reid answered. “Those figures can certainly change, so when it is brought to the Board, then we’ll discuss it.”

“Don’t we vote first before we do this (the renovations)?” Hartman asked again.

When Reid repeated that the Board would discuss it when it has been presented before the Board, McDaniel jumped in.

“The question is, whether we are going to talk about where the money is coming from,” McDaniel said. “Are you saying we are going to move forward with the project without the Board knowing where the funding is coming from? Is that what I hear?”

“No ma’am, I did not say that,” Reid said. “That will be brought to us at the appropriate time. Everything will come before the Board. We won’t spend any money without the Board’s approval.”

“So you will put the bids out first before we know where the money is coming from?” McDaniel asked.

Green then stepped in and told the Board that the District had previously transferred money to the capital improvement account.

“So we do have capital improvement money we could use for the renovation,” Green said.

McDaniel pointed out, however, that at the time the Board approved the transfer into the capital improvement account, Green did not say specifically what the money was going to be used for.

During the Board’s October 2015 meeting, Green asked the Board to approve a transfer of $2.25 million from a surplus in the general fund account to the capital improvement account. At the time, when asked what, specifically, the $2.25 million transfer would be used for, Green spoke in generalities.

“This is something I’m going to bring back to the Board eventually,” he said in October. “But there are a few things we’re looking at.”

He mentioned renovations that will allow the removal of portables behind the middle school and at Kelly Miller.

During last January’s meeting, Green moved the project further along when he asked the Board to award a contract to FW Architects. While these projects had still not been approved, Green told the Board he planned to pay for them with the $2.25 million transfer of funds to capital projects fund.

“Once we get these designs (for the school renovations) and you are able to prioritize, will you provide us a list of the capital projects you are looking to do?” Board member William Frick (District 6) asked Green during the January meeting. Green told Frick he would.

Board policy for facilities planning and development states: “The board will authorize the construction of a sufficient number of school buildings to meet the demands of present and future student enrollments.”

In addition, Board policy for fiscal management states: “The board will establish budget priorities for each fiscal year (July 1 – June 30).”

Contacted by The Voice after the Board meeting Tuesday night, Green said that he never returned to the Board with a written list of capital improvement projects but that he believed the Board had in effect put a priority on replacing the portables when it approved the architects’ contract to design the renovations.

Green also confirmed that putting the middle school expansion project out for bids does not commit the District or the Board.

“I am committed to this project and am hopeful that we can move ahead with it,” he said, “but there is no guarantee that the Board will approve to fund it.”