Oxford High School cuts draw criticism, resolve from residents

By Errol Castens/NEMS Daily Journal

OXFORD – Nearly 100 people listened to options for trimming costs for the new 1,200-student Oxford High School and responded with both criticism and resolve.
In March board officials were stunned by bids that exceeded their nearly $30 million construction budget by more than $7 million.
Oxford School System Superintendent Brian Harvey admitted the initial estimate from an outside architect should have been tested further.
“The number we had in the beginning … in hindsight was not enough,” he said.
One option under consideration for expanding that money, school officials suggested, is a performance bond in which a company such as Johnson Controls would fund high-efficiency heating and cooling equipment to be paid back from energy savings.
Another possible trim will be to use conventional materials that are cheaper rather than more expensive recycled ones, despite losing points toward an environmental certification.
Several options were shown for reconfiguring the originally planned buildings, most of which would integrate arts-related programs into other buildings instead of having their own. Theater classes and performances would be at the current OHS auditorium.
“These are not OK options. We have an incredible theater program, as you know,” said Susan Adams, whose son is in theater. “One of the great things about theater here is that it pulls the school together.”
Adams drew applause when she suggested, “Should we go back to the taxpayers and say we made a mistake and didn’t ask for enough? My feeling is it’s time to really reassess the whole situation.”
Harvey and School Board President Buddy Chain noted that the district only has $14 million in unused bonding capacity, most of which they said needs to be reserved in case of catastrophe.
Parent Helen Phillips didn’t accept Adams’ alarm, noting that high school teams will still use the stadiums at the current campus.
“It’s a five-minute ride. It’s not like we’re busing kids across a big city or even across town,” she said. “I don’t know why we can’t make this work.”
School board members are working with professional staff to determine which of two actions they’ll support later this month – either to negotiate with the low-bidders over possible cost cuts, or to start redesigning, which would negate some of the massive land work already done.
After others broached the subject of seeking private funds to support the project, Elaine Gelbard suggested recruiting the man whose fundraising abilities are visible in the form of programs and buildings all over the University of Mississippi campus.
“Get Robert Khayat to head up a fundraising campaign,” she said.
errol.castens@journalinc.com