Originally created 12/10/97

School utilities to be improved



Work will begin by the end of the year on improving Richmond County schools' utilities after trustees agreed to a contract Tuesday that should save the schools system $9.1 million over 10 years.

Pending any problems discovered by school board attorney Pete Fletcher as he reviews the final details, the contract gives the Honeywell firm the go-ahead to start work at several schools during the Christmas break, which begins Dec. 22. Trustees voted 10-0 for the contract to proceed if Mr. Fletcher finds nothing amiss.

The agreement includes shifting $1 million from the $115 million school bond to cover Honeywell's initial fees and then the board must pay $175,000 a year for 10 years to the firm.

In return, Honeywell guarantees the system will save $6.6 million over 10 years with its plan to revamp and upgrade lighting, heating, air conditioning, energy conservation and other utilities at 47 schools. The firm estimates it can save another $2.5 million over 10 years, although that figure is not guaranteed by the contract.

"What really, really pumped me up was much of this would be preventative maintenance and we haven't been able to do that," said trustee Y.N. Myers Jr.

Trustees had few questions about the complex contract when it came time to vote Tuesday, although the board considered tabling the issue until Mr. Fletcher finished his review. Earlier in the day, many said they were uncertain what they would do about Honeywell's proposal.

"One of my main questions is I don't like borrowing money to pay back next year," said trustee Barbara Padgett. "I know that the money will be there to pay it back, but I think it's bad business."

Another part of the board's uncertainty came from the obtuse language of the agreement itself. "If you read the contract, you would get confused," Superintendent Charles Larke agreed.

Once the agreement's legalities were pared down into simpler terms, several board members said they couldn't see a better way for the school system to make the repairs it needs without Honeywell's plan.

"If what I think I'm reading is true, then I'm for it," said trustee Jeff Annis. "It just adds up to be a good thing as far as the dollars and cents of it goes. It doesn't feel good to commit to a 10-year, $175,000 a year fee. But dollars- and cents-wise, it would make no sense to not do it."

Trustees got their contracts and more information on the proposal last Wednesday, but most were out of town until the weekend at an education conference and some said they'd had little time to devour the details.

"I generally make a decision on what's given to me at the final second," said trustee Andrew Jefferson.

Also Tuesday, trustees unanimously approved adding an optional study skills course at all high schools, promoted teacher Sharon Diver to special education consultant, and approved several new classes for John S. Davidson Fine Arts Magnet School. The board voted 5-4 to let Georgia Power handle electricity for the new south Augusta high school, rather than Jefferson EMC.

The board met Tuesday instead of its customary Thursday slot due to scheduling conflicts among trustees.