The Beaufort County School District moved a step closer to building two new Bluffton schools on Tuesday night.
The board of education voted at its meeting to begin contract negotiations with Hite Associates to design the schools -- a pre-kindergarten through eight elementary school and a nine through 12 high school -- both in greater Bluffton.
Hite Associates is an architectural firm based in North Carolina that has designed dozens of schools, according to district spokesman Jim Foster.
School officials said they are pleased the process is moving along quickly to help alleviate the current and expected overcrowding in Bluffton schools.
"The faster we can address this, the better," district chief operational services officer Phyllis White said. "We've been trying to get to this point for quite a while."
If a contract is successfully negotiated, Foster said the work this would be Hite's first with the district. Fees will be discussed once a contract is final, White said.
THE SELECTION PROCESS
The firm's selection was made after a multi-layered process.
Twenty-one firms initially submitted proposals for the elementary school and 15 for the high school.
Superintendent Jeffrey Moss, White and facilities, planning and construction officer Robert Oetting then narrowed down the candidates for interviews. Six firms were selected for the elementary school and four for the high school.
A five-person selection committee -- made up of Moss, Oetting, Bluffton High School principal Mark Dievendorf, Red Cedar Elementary School principal Kathy Corley and town of Bluffton Planning and Community Development Manager Shawn Leininger -- interviewed the firms.
Factors considered included the firms' past performance, creativity and insight, current and projected workload, related experience and ability to meet time and budget requirements.
The elementary school -- to be built on Davis Road with a capacity of 1,400 students -- has a budget of $25 million. It will be paid for with money set aside from a February bond issue.
Moss has said he expects the high school -- to be in the New Riverside area with a capacity of 1,800 students -- to cost between $35 million and $40 million. It will be paid for with money the district is allowed to borrow without a referendum.
The district already owns both sites for the schools.
Moss has said he hopes to have both open for the 2015-16 school year.
Board chairman Bill Evans said the board had questions about whether Hite could handle both projects.
White said that was considered in the selection committee's review and recommendation.
"They (the committee) felt there wasn't anything prohibiting the firm from being able to take on the two schools," she said. "The timeline (Hite) presented looked reasonable to complete them both."
However, White said that the district will start working with its second choice firm if it is unable to negotiate a contract with Hite. She said the district will not release the name of that firm because it does not have a signed contract.
The district will now begin to draft its version of a contract, which it will send to Hite for review.
White said officials will start the drafting process Wednesday and should be able to present a finalized contract to the board at its Nov. 19 meeting.
Once a contract is finalized, another committee will be created to work with Hite on different design features and capabilities to compliment the academic curricula in place, Moss said.
That curriculum has not been decided upon, but the Curriculum and Instruction Committee hopes to have some recommendations by the end of November. Initial discussions have included making the elementary schoola Montessori school and the high school a college- and career-ready focus one.
In other action, the Beaufort County School Board:
- Accepted a $4,000 donation from Parker's to the Beaufort County School District.
- Accepted a $7,172 donation from Little Red Dog Foundation to M.C. Riley Elementary School for its special needs class.
- Accepted a $1,000 donation from Friends of Shanklin to Joseph S. Shanklin Elementary School forr courtyard improvements.
- Accepted a $1,000 donation from Hargray Communications to Battery Creek High School for the Thanksgiving basketball tournament.
- Accepted a $7,900 donation from Hargray Communications to Bluffton High School for the YMCA Youth in Government Model Legislature and Court.
- School district prepares to interview architects for new Bluffton schools, October 28, 2013
- School board decides to build two new schools in Bluffton, October 1, 2013
- Hite Associates website
- Beaufort County Board of Education agenda, November 5
- Request for Qualifications for high school
- Request for Qualifications for elementary school