Wednesday, March 16, 2022

Oconee County School Board Awards Bid For Construction At Oconee County Primary School And Oconee County Elementary School

***Internet Filter To Address YouTube Problems***

The Oconee County Board of Education on Monday voted to accept a bid from Kevin Price Construction for $2.4 million for renovation of Oconee County Primary School and Oconee County Elementary School.

Total costs for the work at the two neighboring and linked schools is estimated to be $2.8 million, and funding will come from the Education Local Option Sales Tax (ELOST) and state Capital Outlay Project allocations.

Oconee County Schools has not indicated publicly what types of renovation will take place at the two schools.

In other action, the Board approved a bid of $50,000 for LightSpeed Systems for a new Internet filter.

Ryan White, Director of Technology for Oconee County Schools, told the Board the filter will be particularly effective in addressing faculty and student concerns about content on YouTube.

The Board also approved a bid of $33,000 from Bytespeed to replace 40 desktop computers used by students and staff.

The purchase will be paid for using federal funds allocated to Oconee County Schools for pandemic relief.

Bids For School Renovations

Kevin Price Construction, with its headquarters on Daniells Bridge Road, was low among three bidders for the renovation of Oconee County Primary School and Oconee County Elementary School.

Screen Shot Of Toole Before Board Members Tim Burgess
And Michael Ransom, 3/7/2022

Oconee County Primary School, 2290 Hog Mountain Road, has preschool through Second Grade, while Oconee County Elementary School, 2230 Hog Mountain Road, has Grades 3 to 5. Other Elementary Schools in the system have Grades Kindergarten through 5.

Amacher Brothers of Atlanta had bid $2,665,250 for the renovations at the two schools, and Cloverleaf Construction of Athens had bid $4,412,850.

Amacher Brothers has received the bid for construction of the 10-classroom addition at Colham Ferry Elementary School and the eight-classroom addition at High Shoals Elementary School. It also built the Dove Creek Elementary School.

Brock Toole, Chief Operations Officer for Oconee County Schools, told the Board at its work session on March 7 that the bid does not include planned roof replacements at the two schools.

Conflicting Documents

I had asked Toole for help in understanding discrepancies between the bid and earlier documents used to describe the proposed work at Oconee County Primary School and Oconee County Elementary School.

In those documents, presented to the Board at its retreat in January, Toole listed Renovations and Modifications to Oconee County Primary School at a cost of $2.4 million and, separately, Modifications to Oconee County Elementary School, at a cost of $1.2 million.

In its Capital Outlay Project Application for Fiscal Year 2023, Oconee County Schools also listed Renovations and Modifications at Oconee County Primary School at $2.4 million and, separately, Modifications at Oconee County Elementary School at $1.2 million.

No renovations were listed at Oconee County Elementary School.

In the language of the state applications, Modifications and Renovations are different categories.

Renovations listed for Oconee County Primary School in that application included a new ceiling, new floor, rewiring, new windows, and restroom modernization.

Modifications at both schools included roof replacements.

Oconee County Schools received a separate allocation from the state through the Capital Outlay Project for $2.1 million for roofs at Oconee County Primary School, Oconee County Elementary School, and Oconee County High School.

Response From Jimenez

I asked Toole specifically if the separate funding for roofs explained in part the discrepancies in the documents.

Toole did not respond to my two separate email requests for information.

Instead, Anisa Sullivan Jimenez, Director of Communications for Oconee County Schools, responded to my first email to Toole in an email on Wednesday morning and said that work at the two schools will be done in phases.

"This is due to procurement, as well as plans to expand the scope of the work to be done at both schools," she wrote. 

"Therefore, this summer is phase I, which includes interior renovations at both schools. Phase II (exterior roofing) is next summer," she wrote.

(The above three paragraphs have been revised from the initial report.) 

I also asked for a copy of the Request for Proposals for the renovations at the two schools to see what work is being doing as part of the bid awarded to Price, but she did not respond to that request.

In neither the March 7 Board of Education work session, when the bid was announced, nor at the March 14 regular meeting, when the bid was awarded, was there any discussion of the actual work that will be completed by Price.

Details of the work at the two schools also was not discussed in the runup to the March 2021 vote on the ELOST referendum, which passed overwhelmingly.

Internet Filter

LightSpeed Systems was the third highest among eight bidders in response to the Request for Proposals for the Internet filter.

Screen Shot Of Stancil Before Board, 3/7/2021

Susan Stancil, Director of Secondary Education, told the Board at the March 7 session that the new Internet Filter will replace the existing service, “filter Internet content, allow for enhanced YouTube control, and continue allowing classroom management for teachers.”

Board Member Tim Burgess asked for an elaboration on the YouTube controls.

Director of Technology White said LightSpeed, based in Austin, Texas, has a “crawler” that “goes through the YouTube videos, and it allows us to block individual videos, which right now we’re having to do very, very selectively when we get feedback from teachers or principals when they submit a ticket.

“And then, on top of that, it blocks all the comments, all the ads, all of that as well,” White continued.

“So it just allows us like very regular control of YouTube, which we get a lot of complaints from, from teachers and students,” he added.

Desktop Computers

Stancil, who will take over as Chief Academic Officer of Oconee County Schools on May 2, introduced the nine bids for the new desktop computers at the March 7 meeting.

Bytespeed, based in Morehead, Minn., was the low bidder at $33,000.

“The new desktop computers will be direct replacements for student and staff devices,” she said, and will be paid for with ESSER funds.

ESSER refers to Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Funds.

Financial Report

Liz Harlow, Chief Financial Officer for Oconee County Schools, reported at the March 14 meeting that a little more than $1 million of the $3.2 million in ESSER III funds allocated to Oconee County Schools remain available for spending as of the end of February.

ESSER III funds come from the American Rescue Plan, the last of the relief bills.

As part of her financial report, Harlow told the Board explained the Total Benefits Statement available to all benefit-eligible employees of Oconee County Schools.

She used a teacher with a master’s degree and 15 years of experience as her example, and said such an employee would receive a base salary of $63,297.

In addition, Oconee County Schools pays such an employee another $27,291 in benefits, Harlow said.

Operations Report

Fred Ricketson, Director of Facilities, gave an update at the March 7 work session on construction at the Colham Ferry Elementary School, High Schools Elementary School, and Dove Creek Middle School construction sites.

Picture Of Dove Creek Construction Site
From Operations Report 3/7/2022

“We made a lot of progress” in the last week at Colham Ferry, he said, with window frames installed. Painting and flooring will be undertaken soon, he said.

The steel has now been installed at High School Elementary School, he said, and block work was to start soon.

Ricketson said that excavation for the most important footing was underway at the Dove Creek Middle School site and the pouring of concrete should start soon.

The two elementary school additions are to be complete by the beginning of the next school year, while the middle school is to be ready the following year.

Board Member Michael Ransom asked Toole about lights at the North Oconee sports fields.

Toole acknowledge problems with the lights and said he had been in contact with the vendor and the installer.

It will be necessary to redo the underground wiring, Toole said, and this will not be covered by warranty.

No citizens spoke at the Regular Meeting of the Board on Monday, the only opportunity for citizens to address the Board.


The two videos below are on the YouTube Channel of Oconee County Schools.

As the message below states, Oconee County Schools will not allow anyone to embed its videos on a web site not controlled by Oconee County Schools.

Simply click on the YouTube link to go to the Oconee County Schools channel to see the videos.

Harlow began speaking at 20:38 in the first video from the March 14 meeting.

Stancil began speaking at 5:37 in the second video, from the March 7 meeting.

Toole began his report at 11:56 in the video.

Ricketson gave his construction update at 12:44 in the video.

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