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Guest opinion: Some facts on Bonita Springs High School
July 6, 2017

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Instead of sharing rumors about the construction of Bonita Springs High School, let's talk about the facts and school district governance.

First, the construction of new school facilities is very important for any School District, particularly during times of growth similar to what we are experiencing here in Lee County. It is our responsibility to provide our students a world class education in a world class facility, while spending taxpayer dollars wisely and transparently. Which I can assure you, we are doing.

In the spring of 2015, the District put out a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) to find a highly qualified construction management company, a standard practice for many districts across the country. When the bids came in, they were ranked by a district committee and, on May 26, 2015, the School Board made a recommendation to negotiate with the top-ranked firm, Gulfpoint Construction.

During the contract award process, the School Board had a lively conversation about the merits of the ranking process being used, and the criteria on which the decision was based. As a result, the process was assessed and with input from construction professionals in our community, several improvements were made to address transparency and impartiality.

As this was going on, the District was looking for land in Bonita Springs on which to build the new high school. A viable site at the corner of Shangri-La Road and Imperial Parkway was eventually identified and the District closed on this property on Aug. 10, 2016.

During the purchase of the site, an unfortunate error in the survey failed to reveal that a roughly tenth of an acre piece of property adjacent to the site belonged to the Hawthorne Homeowners Association instead of being part of the City of Bonita Springs utilities easement. The error was discovered by the School District and project engineers as offsite improvements were being finalized for a right turn lane into the school from Shangri La Road. Subsequently, a review of a traffic study suggested the right turn lane was not warranted, saving the taxpayers approximately $70,000, and District staff have determined the acquisition of the property is unnecessary.

Throughout the process, taxpayer dollars are always top of mind. Financing school facilities continues to be a growing challenge and the School District has always stretched valuable construction dollars.

In April, 2016, the School Board approved a total project cost in the amount of $70,935,000 which included the purchase of property as well as the construction and equipping of the school. With $11 million of the approved total project cost fund applied to the purchase of the site, District staff have been allocated approximately $60 million to complete the design, construction, and equipping of the school.

District staff initially presented an estimate of $50 million for construction solely based on the prototype of Island Coast High School and calculated two full years prior to preconstruction estimates made in January 2017. After a review of updated plans reflecting design changes made by the project architect, construction costs were calculated around $65 million. At that time, District staff, design professionals, and the construction manager developed a plan to reduce that cost by reworking the school's conceptual design, reducing capacity to 1,600 student stations, and performing value engineering while protecting the integrity of the academic programs and life cycle of the building.

Bottom line - District staff, the Superintendent, and School Board have learned and continue to learn valuable lessons that we will use moving forward. I joined the School Board in 2012 with significant reservations about how we were conducting district construction and maintenance. Now, I have every confidence that we have taken the necessary steps to implement best practices that meet Lee County's demand for World-Class facilities in the most fiscally responsible way possible.

- Kathleen Morgan represents District 7 on the School Board of Lee County

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