No time for dodgeball

Another Webster Parish School Board meeting came and went without action on a request for extra dollars associated with the construction, or lack thereof, of a multi-purpose facility on the campus of Minden High School.  

As we understand, the only discussion of that matter came early in the last meeting (Monday) when Building and Grounds Committee Chairperson Linda Kinsey was asked to make a brief report on happenstances of a late May confab. The CliffsNotes version of her report:  “We met, we talked, no action, we adjourned.”

For those of you friends and fellow taxpayers who may have misremembered what’s up, contractor ELA Group, Inc. is asking the school board to cough up an additional $974,728 to cover what company officials say are escalated and continually escalating material costs and delays caused by groundwater problems at the site.

That’s nearly a cool million on top of the 9.9 million dollar price tag of the project bid which was awarded in 2021. And that tidy sum isn’t the only dollar amount that’s floating around. ELA has reportedly requested, and apparently been granted somewhere in the neighborhood of 690 thousand bucks in change orders.

Completion of the building is just about one year behind schedule. And one has to wonder if a finished product is anywhere within sight.

During the May committee meeting, one member asked the Angels (Ed and Ed, Jr.) if the board was obligated by contract to come up with the near-million to cover additional costs. Answer, on the record, was no. Architect of record on the project Perry Watson echoed that answer.

When pressed about what might happen if the money wasn’t forthcoming, the dreaded litigation word was mentioned as a possibility. For those with memories of who’s involved, the word “mentioned” could be translated as “count on it.” 

Maybe the thought of having to go to court if the additional money is denied is one reason no committee recommendation to the board has been forthcoming. But, as one observer told us, silence on the matter isn’t resolution. It’s only a perceived weakness.

In the words of a playground philosopher, this ain’t no time to play dodgeball. It’s time to put on the gear and prepare for full contact. Whether the answer is yes or no, the board needs to give an answer. 

And, we hear, an answer might be coming as early as the school board’s meeting in July. It’s been hinted that a couple of the Minden area members will ask for the issue to be placed on the agenda, with a committee recommendation followed by an up or down vote. 

And, while they’re at it, we might also ask the board to consider a couple of questions that your humble servant has mulled while in the comfort of ol’ rocker. Questions like:

• How many of the reported 690 thousand dollars in change orders have been approved by the board? There seems to be a gap that we can’t close. And it would also be nice to know what these change orders covered, ’cause we ain’t talking small change here.

• Was a possible groundwater problem mentioned in the original bid offering, and was mitigation of that problem included in all bids? There’s word that no such mitigation was in the low bid, but that a change order was allegedly granted for the necessary materials to deal with that issue. Why was that granted since a groundwater study was engineered?

• We understand requests for time extensions have been made, but have all requests been granted? If not, have liquidated damages been discussed? Has ELA’s bonding company been notified of what might be on the horizon? 

From our front porch, it looks like the mess at the building site with all that water and mud could look like a pristine yard garden compared with the mess that could potentially be just around the corner courtroom. 

We know there are tough decisions to make when taxpayer dollars are in the pot, but perhaps somebody should remember the words of Secretary of State Dean Rusk, spoken during the Cuban missile crisis. “We’re eyeball to eyeball,” he said,  “and I think the other fellow just blinked.”

In this messtastrophe, who’s the blinker?