$3.5M surplus has LSS eying athletics project

Lakeland School System

Construction of Lakeland Middle Preparatory School came in $3.5 million under budget, and the superintendent and school board have an idea what to do with those funds: Get a head start on the campus’s athletic fields with the help of another $1 million in funds set aside by the city.

At the Aug. 14 school board meeting, Superintendent Dr. Ted Horrell explained that the $3.5 million has to be spent on the LMPS campus, and, if the city approves, the remaining $1 million would come from money that the Lakeland mayor and city board have already set aside for school district needs.

The board authorized Horrell to request the additional funds from the City of Lakeland.

Horrell provided background on how the proposal developed. He asked Renaissance Group, working in concert with Chris Woods Construction, to provide estimates of what the district could likely accomplish with the middle school’s surplus construction funds. The following points were included in an informal proposal by Doug Burris, senior vice president and partner with Renaissance Group:

  • A softball field
  • A baseball field
  • A soccer field
  • A football-length practice field
  • The football field
  • Bleachers
  • Additional parking
  • A structure to hold concessions, restrooms and a press box facility for the soccer and baseball fields
  • Public address (PA) systems for the soccer and baseball fields
  • A maintenance building
  • An access road to these fields

All fields but the practice field would be lighted and irrigated, and all fields would be fully sodded. The football field would not yet include stadium seating or a track.

With contingency funds included, the building cost is estimated around $3.98 million, Horrell said. Total soft costs estimated at $350,000 would be added to that, including architectural and engineering fees, geotechnical testing, and any furnishings, fixtures or equipment needed. The total would include an additional $35,000 in soft cost contingency funding.

The total is expected to be around $4.361 million, he said. With the $3.5 million on hand, that means the district would need an additional estimated $861,000.

Some of the advantages that Horrell ticked off for pursuing these athletic facilities now included:

  • Saving on future construction costs by taking advantage of today’s lower costs
  • Reducing the future debt obligation because the school district would be building with cash in hand
  • Providing the facilities to today’s LMPS students
  • Making the sports facilities available to the city’s parks and recreation users
  • Developing the land as promised in a contract with the original owners, who have a buy-back clause (more than 20 years in the future) if the land isn’t developed for its intended purpose
  • Ensuring better site stabilization and drainage once the fields are developed (Currently, the property has rough grading in the back and is not fully drained with permanent drainage structures)
  • Reducing the scope of future LMPS development

The school board discussed at length how it and the city’s leaders have often considered partnerships for common goals and how building out the LMPS athletic fields now would give the city the option to save funds by altering the city’s parks and recreation expansion plans.

If the city board approves the $1 million funding request, Horrell recommended having a special-called school board meeting to authorize the superintendent or executive committee to enter into a contract with Renaissance Group for the project’s architecture and engineering.

Burris estimated that it would take about two months, possibly three, for the construction documents to be created, bidding to be conducted and contractor selection to be completed. He believes the construction work itself would take four to five months and could be completed by June 2018.

Teresa Henry asked about downsizing the plans so there’s no need to ask for the $1 million of city funds right now. Her concern was to ensure that funds should be available if Lakeland Elementary School should develop some critical needs, particularly as Lakeland continues to grow.

Burris said the plans can be scaled back if the board desires, although there are economies of scale for doing this amount of work at one time. The board members and superintendent agreed that scaling back plans is an option if the city declines to approve the additional funding at this time.

Other school updates

In other business, Horrell updated the board on current enrollment at both Lakeland School System campuses: 876 at Lakeland Elementary School and703 at LMPS, for a total of 1,579 LSS students.

He also discussed enrollment with Tammy Mason, superintendent of the Arlington Community Schools district, which educated Lakeland’s older students before the new middle school was built. Some students who wanted to complete their middle-school educations in Arlington were allowed to do so, although those numbers were lower than expected, and ACS has an agreement to continue accepting Lakeland’s high school students for now.

Horrell said that of the 36 Lakeland seventh-graders who originally declared their intent for ACS, 12 wound up coming to LMPS anyway. Similarly, 22 of the 51 eighth-graders who originally planned to attend in Arlington decided to come to school in Lakeland instead.

Today, 55 Lakeland students remain at Arlington Middle School, and 33 remain at Donelson Elementary School.

In other updates, LMPS locker installations should be completed this week and locker assignments are expected to begin Monday. Horrell also said more Chromebooks have arrived to accommodate the higher-than-expected middle school enrollment. And the district has received the 2,000 solar eclipse safety glasses it ordered in preparation for student viewing of the Aug. 21 partial eclipse.

In response to a question from Henry, Horrell said that a new bus is being assigned to a consistently late morning route in north Lakeland. It will not have a first tier assignment that creates problems for the Lakeland route’s timetable, and it should be able to make the route on time.

Other board business

The school board also approved: