Loudon County Board of Education reached a settlement with Weeks, Ambrose & McDonald over claims the architectural firm was owed more than $53,000.
Board members voted Thursday to give the Knoxville-based firm $27,000. BOE Chairman Scott Newman said the board could now begin contract discussions with Cope Associates for an expansion at Highland Park Elementary School.
“Obviously, we weren’t real happy with the amount that they said we still owed,” Newman said. “Basically they said we owed them for what they would have earned if we went forward with the project. Initially several years ago that project, we thought that project would come in around $11 million and it’s actually a $3 million project. ... And basically for lack of a better term, they strong-armed us.”
Newman said the school board needed to be “good stewards” with the county’s money.
Weeks, Ambrose & McDonald was hired in 2006 to conduct work on HPES renovations. However, plans fell through when the board was not able to fully provide the initial $11 million for the project, which included additional classrooms and renovations to the entire facility.
“Let’s be realistic, none of us believe we owe them a dime,” Jeremy Buckles, school board member, said. “We paid them for the work they did and we believe that their $50,000-plus bill that they gave us was unnecessary and was, of course — we were being charged for lost profit for a project that never really got beyond the planning phase. There really was no lost profit. So we feel we were in the right, but we had to go through mediation and we came up with a $27,000 offer with them to settle.”
Buckles said had the board continued with the potential lawsuit, members could have been looking at $25,000-$30,000 in legal fees, not including the possibility of losing the case and still owing what Weeks, Ambrose & McDonald requested.
“So in the interest of saving the taxpayers money, getting it down to $27,000 and saving about $25,000 for the school system and the taxpayers of Loudon County, ultimately it was a win,” Buckles said. “It wasn’t great but it was the best thing we could probably do.”
Director of Schools Jason Vance said the board will likely vote on a contract with Cope Associates during either the December or January meeting.
“Didn’t really want us having to spend any money at all really, but in the long run I think it’s going to save us a lot of money and it’s going to be able to help us move forward with getting our building program started,” William Jenkins, school board member, said. “So might as well go ahead and settle and spend as little amount of money as possible.”
In other news, the school board:
Approved amendments made to funds 141 and 142.
Voted in favor of $410,000 for the purchase of math textbooks, which will be for a six-year period.
Approved the calendar for the 2016-17 school year.
Appointed a committee to examine custodial options for the school system. Members are Kenny Ridings, Craig Simon and Leroy Tate. Loudon County Maintenance Director Brian Brown will also assist the committee.