Covington Schools’ Board of Education completed another step toward making a decision on school consolidation Monday night.
The board agreed to bid out the production of the district’s facilities master plan to architecture firms following some brief discussion at a special board meeting Monday night.
“This is something obviously we’ve been talking about for quite a while,” said Board of Education President Tom Haggard. “I think, though, the consensus of the board would be we would want to bid this process out to see if more firms would be able to reply to us.”
Finalizing the district’s facilities master plan is a key step on the road to the board voting on whether to consolidate district elementary schools in the face of dwindling student enrollment and excessive cost, per the analysis of district staff members.
The question of consolidation has been looming in the background of board conversations since the beginning of the calendar year.
District staff presented their plan for consolidation in February. The proposed plan would close 9th District Elementary School and redistribute the students to two other elementary schools in the district, Glenn O. Swing and Latonia Elementary Schools. Staff contended that the consolidation would save the district almost $1 million in 2024.
The plan was unpopular among residents, and the board decided to delay voting until they could get more public feedback and reassess the state of the district’s facilities generally. So, the prospect of consolidation is presently up in the air.
“I think when we looked at the facilities, we wanted to change our stance from being reactive to more of a proactive [stance],” said Board Member Stephen Gastright. “I know that we were looking at some of the effects of reduced enrollment on our facilities, and before we make commitments on which facilities would accept which students, we wanted to make sure that we’re taking into account future enrollment potential.”
Gastright is an architect and has been an outsized advocate for reassessing district facilities.
He added that shoring up the master plan would help the district make more “informed decisions” about consolidation.
Ken Kippenbrock, the school system’s executive director of human resources and operations, presented a preliminary proposal for a master plan from architectural firm PCA Architecture early in the meeting.
The proposal listed the services the firm could provide to assess facilities and produce a new master plan. PCA offered to perform the work for a fee of $22,800.
Rather than simply accept PCA’s offer, the board decided that it would be better to bid out the project to the market to find a better deal. Although bidding processes can be time-consuming, they have the potential to save the district money if a firm is willing to complete a proposed project for a lower price.
How the district handles its project bidding processes came up in a board meeting earlier this month, when Board Member Kareem Simpson expressed dismay at the dearth of bidders for a pair of repair projects in the district as well as the projects’ combined cost, which ended up being about 60% higher than the district’s initial estimates.
“I think there needs to be another look at this particular project and the bid process,” Simpson said, “to make sure that we get additional bids to kind of stave off some of those fears that we have a higher bid, making sure that we are choosing the right contractor for our needs.”
In a phone call with LINK nky, Kippenbrock said that he will need to wait to get additional feedback from the board on what they would like to see in the bid solicitation before putting the bids out to market.
The timeline for both the bidding and if and when the board will decide to consolidate schools remains unclear.