BY BRIAN JONES
COLUMBUS – The Columbus Municipal School Board held an agenda review meeting at Franklin Academy on Sept. 9. Before discussing the agenda for Monday’s regular board meeting, they handled a few other matters of business, including the potential sale of Lee Middle School.
Last month the board approved a resolution to advertise for bids for Lee Middle School. The district has not yet advertised, due to concerns over the wording of the resolution. The way it is currently phrased potential buyers may only bid on the entire parcel, rather than part of it.
“The issue came up during a conversation with (Superintendent Dr. Philip Hickman and Board President Angela Verdell) whether the current resolution does not allow bids on less than the whole acreage,” said Board Attorney David Dunn. “I talked about this with (Dunn’s law partner Chris Hemphill) and we don’t think you can accept the bids if they are less than a certain amount. Under the state purchasing laws, you are obligated to take the lowest and best bid. If one person is bidding on oranges and another is bidding on apples, you’ll have no way to know which bid is lowest and best. If a bidder intends to use the property for a school, under (Mississippi Department of Education) rules they have to have the whole property to meet the minimum size requirements. If someone wanted just the north end to put in a hotel or a strip mall, they wouldn’t be able to bid on just that the way your resolution is phrased now.”
Verdell asked about language in a past resolution that prevented the site from being used as a charter school.
“This does not have any of that language in it,” Dunn said. “The original resolution from back in whatever year that was had a provision in there that it would not be used for K-12. [I believe Mr. Dunn is referring to the board’s last attempt to take bids for the property, which was back in 2012. -Ed.] That’s not in there this time. The legislature has passed a statute that if a school district has surplus property they have to give the right of first refusal to a charter school.”
Hickman asked if the district could keep a portion of the land.
“That’s what brought about my thinking on this,” Dunn said. “You cannot accept bids for just part of it the way the resolution is written now.”
Jason Spears asked if the request for bids had already been published, and Dunn said no.
“We were not comfortable moving forward and running this in the paper until we talked about this,” Dunn said.
Dunn also pointed out that, if the board wanted to divide the property up and solicit bids for parts of it, then they needed to have it surveyed first.
“You need to have a definitive way to describe it,” Dunn said.
Dunn said that he would reword the resolution so that prospective bidders could bid on part or all of the property. He also said he would get quotes on the cost of surveys.
No action was taken.
During an update on the ongoing athletic upgrades in the district, engineer Kevin Stafford of Neel Schaffer and architect Jose Arellano of Pryor and Morrow said the track at Columbus High, which has been plagued with drainage problems and deterioration, will be fixed.
“We’re going to remove the rubber material that you have there, and remove an inch and a half of the existing asphalt,” Arellano said. “We’re going to come back and pour new asphalt and then put down new rubber. What you have now is a permeable rubber, that lets water soak down through it. What we’re going to put in is sealed, and the water will run off of it. That permeable rubber surface is one of the reasons you were having problems.”
“One possible reason the track deteriorated is that water would soak down through there in the winter time and freeze,” Stafford said. “That would cause the asphalt and the rubber to separate.”
Some of the drainage pipes are also undersize, he said.
“Initially weren’t we looking at raising the track?” Currie Fisher asked.
“The reason we didn’t do that was basically that we thought it was a cost that you needed to avoid,” Stafford said.
[The track at Columbus High School has been a sore spot for the district practically as far back as I can remember. It seems like they started having problems immediately, and have been through an endless round of attempted fixes and litigation. I hope that they can finally get that straightened out – the students at CHS deserve good facilities. – Ed.]