Central office proposal causes misunderstanding
by Emily Adams
SYLACAUGA – The Board of Education and City Council essentially ended a Tuesday work session where it began after a misunderstanding regarding a proposed central office location.

With both entities present, except Councilman Billy Carden, Mayor Doug Murphree asked if the school board had any interest in locating its central office in the former Food World building on Main Avenue.

“Some of us have looked at the Food World building, and the idea was tossed around that if we could acquire that building and put an arts theater in there or something, and then the school board could put the central office in there,” Murphree said. “It was even discussed about SAFE having some facilities there, and I don’t know how far it’s gone. I don’t think we’ve gone far enough to get prices or anything like that.”

The BOE has budgeted $1 million to $2.5 million for a new central office after it was determined the existing Fourth Street office is in disrepair, BOE member Skip Smithwick said, adding that the board is looking at multiple locations and has considered Food World in the past.

“(The BOE) looked at this building in 2008 and had an engineering study done,” he said. “It pretty much tells all about it and what was wrong with it in 2008, and I think you’d find more wrong with it today than you did then.”

Smithwick said board members “would be (interested), but time is of the essence. I don’t know that we could wait two years to be in the facility.” Murphree said he didn’t think the city could commit a large sum of money to the project within the next year.

Board member Tracey Allen said she, Smithwick and Superintendent Renee Riggins recently met with a member of the Chamber of Commerce Commercial Retail Committee who pitched them the idea.

“We had questions about the time frame, because time is critical for us,” she said. “Also, how much money is the city willing to put in on this, how much would we put in, and we have the issue of, unless we own the part of the building where we are, we can’t pour money in that. We have to own it.”

“I’ve got an attorney general’s opinion that states that you can spend money on property you do not own,” City Council President Rocky Lucas said. “My thing is, we’re redoing high schools, we’ve redone elementary schools – you don’t own that. You don’t own the schools. The deeds are ready to be transferred, but the deeds are still in the city, and I didn’t know if y’all are aware of that or not.”

Smithwick asked CFO Lisa Dickerson if they were aware, and she said yes. She also confirmed the AG’s opinion does allow them to spend money on property they don’t own, but said it is not generally wise.

Lucas then asked about a projected school construction budget from 2010 that includes only $375,000 for central office repairs. Dickerson said prices for individual projects have changed since 2010, but the overall plan is expected to remain within it’s roughly $23 million budget.

“What I don’t want to see is the high school projects - projects that are going to benefit the teachers, students and faculty - not be completed because we overshot on a central office,” Lucas said. “That’s my biggest fear.”

“Mr. President, rest assured,” Smithwick said. “This is going to be an economical venture.”

Lucas then asked if it was safe to assume the Food World building is not a good fit. At this point, Allen interjected to say there had apparently been a miscommunication.

“When we sat down at the meeting (with the Chamber subcommittee), it was presented to us in a way that the council was ready to move on this, and that’s why we’re here, if you want to know the truth,” Allen said.

Chamber President Scott Hamlet then stood and said Chamber board members have been assessing possibilities for empty city buildings and approached this as an idea only. “I do apologize if you were misled,” he said. “I think our intentions were to get people to talk about that opportunity…If this is not a good fit for the BOE, by all means scratch it and move on to your next plan.”

Councilman Joe Hogan then moved the conversation to another topic.

“Since you’re all here and we’re all here, and that’s rare, how do you plan to address the immediate needs of (Legion Stadium) for safety issues? There are things that have to be done, and somebody has to pay for it,” he said.

BOE President Jennie McGhee said that discussion was not on the agenda.

“I’m not trying to cut you off or anything, but that wasn’t part of the agenda, and we need to come back later and address this,” she said. “We need to stay to what we had come here to discuss. I’m not trying to be ugly.”

Hogan asked that the topic be put on an upcoming agenda to move the discussion forward. Lucas concluded by saying the city would like a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ on the Food World property.

“We’ll let you all know something by (our next meeting) April 30,” McGhee said.

Contact Emily Adams at eadams@dailyhome.com.

© 2013