WFHS Saints Stadium

The West Feliciana Parish School Board will combine $5.4 million from two sources and use a relatively new construction procedure to build an athletic field house at the high school.

The board agreed at its Nov. 15 meeting to put up $2.2 million in extra bond money and $3.2 million from its $10.4 million fund general fund balance, or surplus, to finance the project.

Voters in 2019 approved issuing $52.6 million in construction bonds, backed by a property tax, but the board received extra money from the sale when bidders offered more than the face value of the bonds to take advantage of the bonds’ tax-exempt status.

Superintendent Hollis Milton, who said the “bond premium money” must be spent within the next 18 months, said the field house will benefit a future generation of students and may represent the last major school construction project for the next 20 or 30 years.

The board has used the 2019 bond money to build a new elementary school, a high school freshman academy, a new gymnasium, a high school career-technical center and other smaller projects.

Milton said a school district should have a general fund balance of at least 20% of its annual expenditures in case of an unforeseen emergency or economic turndown. Taking $3.2 million from the general fund will not put it below the 20% margin, he said.

The current athletic field house at the high school is primarily a "football field house,” Milton said, but the new facility could be used for football weight training, as well as boys and girls indoor soccer and provide indoor practice areas for cheer teams, the marching band and dance team.

The usual method of constructing public buildings is to have an architect design the structure, seek bids from interested contractors and award the project to the low bidder.

The board plans to use a procedure called “construction management at risk,” which is allowed by state law for projects costing a minimum of $5 million.

Board attorney Charlie Hardie said a legislative committee must approve the board’s use of the procedure before it can be implemented.

An evaluation committee will choose an architect for the project and pick a contractor from those who express interest in taking on the project. When the contractor is chosen, its representatives work with the architect during the design phase to develop plans that will fit within the $5.4 million the board approved for the work.

When the building is designed, the contractor has the option of agreeing to do the job within in the set price, Hardie said. If the contractor backs out, the board can proceed with seeking bids from other contractors using the plans that were developed.

Asked what “at risk” the procedure entails, Hardie said the contractor assumes the risk of completing the project for the set price.

Hardie said the procedure has been used in the Lafayette Parish and Central school systems.

He said construction management at risk takes away some of the unknowns in construction costs and helps avoid added costs during the life of the project.

It also allows the board to vet the contractor instead of merely accepting the low bidder, he said.

Board member Sarah Wilson Rogers abstained on the votes to appropriate the $5.4 million and begin the construction management at risk process, saying the ideas should have been presented to the board’s Building Committee before it was given to the board for an up-or-down vote.

Milton cited the tight deadline for the project as one reason for skipping a presentation to the Building Committee and said bringing it straight to the board would avoid putting pressure on three board members who serve on the committee.

On another matter, the board set its 2023 meetings on the third Tuesday of each month, except for the February and November meetings that will be on the second Tuesday.