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Veterans Park Academy for the Arts renovation

District moves forward to firm selection negotiations

By MEGHAN BRADBURY - | Feb 17, 2021


After a lengthy discussion to approve rankings for architectural, construction management and building official services for a renovation project at Veterans Park Academy for the Arts it came down to a split vote with four in favor and three opposed.

Board members Gwyn Gittens, Betsy Vaughn and Melisa Giovannelli opposed the motion.

At the beginning of the meeting Gittens pulled the three agenda items that pertained to the renovation project at the Lehigh Acres school.

“The governance team agreed yesterday at our workshop to look at necessary updates and changes to our processes of building schools in the Lee County School District. I understand there are timelines for building schools. We must move forward at our earliest convenience. However we must look at our process now before we spend millions of dollars. We must vet potential expenditure of millions of tax payers dollars with all stakeholders,” Gittens read during the meeting. Interested and concerned stakeholders have reached out to me and asked about this process. Are we possibly overlooking ways to save taxpayer money and help all students achieve their highest potential? Do we not owe it to the stakeholders the respect of equity, inclusion and responsibility?”

She said she was concerned a positive vote for the items would result in the district moving forward too quickly with its current plans to expand Veterans Park. This should be one of the times they need to stop and listen, involve and plan for a better future, she added.

“We need the extra seats, we desperately need the extra seats, especially in the East Zone, but my concern is the process,” she said.

Gittens said her urgency in not voting in favor of the motion was knowing that the Department of Education is awaiting the approval.

Superintendent Dr. Greg Adkins assured the board numerous times during the discussion that staff has heard the concerns and there is flexibility within the renovation.

“As I continue to say we certainly have time to make changes and modifications. The documents that she has spoken to, they are written very specifically to be very broad and general, which will allow for us to be able to work with our community when we design the renovation of what is currently Lehigh Acres Middle School,” he said. “It will provide an opportunity for these firms to actually hear and participate in the community feedback. We believe and we would like the opportunity as the staff to come to the board on the 23rd of February and provide you with a briefing of where we are, including a timeline. Then be able to come back to the board after we have gone out to the community following that meeting to get input from the community. Then come back to the board in very early April and make a recommendation based on that community feedback.”

 This would  allow them to take advantage during the summer to be able to start the process, Adkins said, adding he believes they can meet the concerns and requests while still staying on time with that particular project while garnering and gathering community input.

Board Member Melisa Giovannelli echoed Gittens’ concerns that the community and parents need to be involved in the process. She said they need to slow down and make sure they have buy in Lehigh Acres, so they are proud of their school.

“I want to make sure that we are ready and the community is ready. We are spending their money, so we need to do it with their interest involved,” Giovannelli said.

Adkins said staff guaranteed to him yet again before the meeting that there is flexibility.

Gittens said she needed to hear that plans are not written in stone.

“Whatever we need and ultimately is decided as a community. My interest is I really feel our students deserve a better facility at LAMBS and I believe we need to meet the capacity concerns of that school,” Adkins said.

Board Member Cathleen O’Daniel Morgan, who was in favor of the motion, said they start down the road, hire an architect and go through planning process with the community and find out there are issues involved in the process. From there they regroup and go back. They never start out with something in stone, she said.

“The whole point of this is to start the process where you engage with the community and you have professionals who are in the position to hear what is being said and also in the position to articulate the pros and cons of the questions being raised,” Morgan said. “If you go out and talk to the community without professionals, what have you got? You haven’t got anything. You haven’t moved at all. I absolutely believe staff when they say there is flexibility in this document to enable the governance team to look at alternatives in respect to what is going to happen at Veterans Park.”

The approvals included the ranking for architectural services, which went to ADG Architecture, LLC; StudioPlus, LLC; RG Architects, P.A. and BSSW Architects, Inc. for the renovation project at Veterans Park Academy for the Arts.

The Construction Management Services ranking for Veterans Park Academy for the Arts renovation project were as follows Gulfpoint Construction Company, Inc.; Chris-Tel Company of Southwest Florida, Inc., dba Chris-Tel Construction’ O-A-K/Florida, Inc. dba Owen-Ames-Kimball Company and Kaufman Lynn Construction, Inc.

The ranking for building official services for Veterans Park Academy for the Arts included NOVA Engineering & Environmental LLC; GFA International, Inc. and NV5, Inc.

The approval at Tuesday night’s meeting authorizes the district to enter the negotiation process of selecting the firm.

Executive Director of Operations, Planning and Project Management Kathy Ebaugh said the vote Tuesday night is to build the foundation for the work.

“It does not preclude what is going to be done,” she said during a Monday meeting.

The vote allows the district to engage with the architectural firm, therefore allowing them to be part of the conversation and hear what is being discussed at the community level.

“We are looking for answers and looking for the architect to understand those options,” Ebaugh said, adding that when working on an existing campus, it makes the redevelopment more challenging.

She said they want to get options, as well as look into the ideas that the district is considering.  Ebaugh said there will also be a community engagement process to discuss the options they would like the district to discuss with the architect.

Gittens asked if they could take a look at the process of staff tracking and looking at data to see if a new facility is warranted, or something needs to be fixed at an existing school. She would like to “look at the process and be more inclusive with this.”

Giovannelli agreed that there has to be best practices.

“We need to stick to those best practices when deciding schools and making those plans,” she said. “We need to involve the community more. If we don’t know what is going on, how are we going to get the community involved?”

Similar remarks were given by Vice Chair Betsy Vaughn.

“It’s always disturbing to me when I find out other entities, entities besides those of us here on the board, are well informed about something that is happening with land use and all the things that go between the lines, so to speak,” she said. “It is disturbing when something is brought to us and the decision has already been made and the money has already been spent.”

Adkins said he would be happy to look into the process because quite frankly, he believes staff could be helped by more clarification.

“I can tell you from my perspective we do feel like we have talked about this and involved the board at many junctures, but we do seem to have this disconnect,” he said. “As it relates to Veterans Park, we still have an opportunity to go out and have discussions with the community. We do have deadlines and sometimes we do have curve balls thrown at us and we have to be agile and shift.”

Adkins told the board that he would have zero issues with holding a workshop to have a very clear process in terms of what the board feels is adequate and satisfactory.

“It is not our intent to exclude you from that,” he said.