Hoping the third time will be a charm, the St. John the Baptist Parish School Board has yet again charted a new course for awarding a contract to manage the rebuilding of two schools battered by Hurricane Isaac, a contract that has been contentious since the get-go.
In June, School Board members selected Hammerman & Gainer International to oversee $65 million in repair work on Lake Pontchartrain Elementary School in LaPlace — expected to require a complete demolition — and East St. John High School in Reserve. The final choice of HGI passed through two committees and dragged on for months, but the estimated $13 million deal stalled because the New Orleans disaster recovery firm was not licensed for the job.
HGI had gotten the deal six months after the original solicitation cratered. In December 2012, a panel of school executives and community leaders recommended CSRS Inc. of Baton Rouge, which had managed St. John Parish’s $46 million capital improvement plan in 2008, for the schools work.
Instead, at that meeting, a substitute motion was passed that compelled the board not to take action. The panel was dissolved and the process was restarted.
Last month, the board voted yet again to seek new proposals for the contract, but what remained to be seen was how a final choice would be selected this time.
During a board retreat Tuesday at the Hilton Riverside Hotel in New Orleans, the board charged Superintendent Kevin George with forming a new committee, which will consist of three to five local architects or engineers who will evaluate proposals for the work.
The school district is seeking proposals from firms to administer grants and manage projects, two disparate components that were packaged together in the original contract awarded to HGI. Instead, this time, the three-year pact could go to one firm responsible for both aspects of the work, or it could be split among separate firms. The School Board is seeking an option to renew any deal for an additional two years.
Firms submitting proposals will be required to have a local presence, according to board discussions Tuesday. The superintendent’s evaluation team will make a recommendation to the board by Dec. 5, officials said. The contract will become effective Jan. 1, 2014.
District officials have said much of the federal disaster money received so far has covered work needed in the immediate aftermath of the storm. They say there’s still a $37 million gap between what the federal government has been willing to pay and the expected cost of repairs.
The School Board voted last week to take advantage of a pilot program implemented by the Federal Emergency Management Agency aimed at improving flexibility for communities recovering from disasters and emergencies. Under the new program, the “absolute drop-dead deadline” for FEMA to rule on the amount of money the district will receive is Feb. 20, George said.
Until then, “the only thing we can do is prepare everything,” the superintendent said.
“When that answer does come down, man, the next day, bids are going out,” he added Tuesday.