There is a cliché about projects with plenty of moving parts, but Gulf District Schools are taking the concept to a new level.
With work ongoing on the roofs at both high schools, with running tracks being demolished and replaced at both ends of the county, the Gulf County School Board moved ahead last week with what could be a $20 million project to rehabilitate school sites that are 50 years of age and older.
The board approved opening up negotiations on a $20 million line of credit with Bank of America, 15 years at 2.23 percent, to fund a multi-phase project overseen by Johnson Controls.
The approval committed the board to nothing more than opening those negotiations.
Johnson Controls provided the winning proposal for the overall project after the district released a Request for Proposals (RFQ) for the project under a state statute that governs such an extensive project.
Johnson also shopped the project to lenders and identified the Bank of America proposal as the best.
“We were blessed in that Hurricane Michael did not wipe out our facilities,” said Superintendent of Schools Jim Norton. “But the hurricane did damage and a lot of things need to be addressed.
“We had to have a game plan.”
Norton added that the district, in insurance and FEMA claims, is already facing some $20 million in damages; the long-term project with Johnson Controls is a separate piece of the puzzle.
The line of credit with Bank of America allows the district to tackle the proposed work in phases.
“We are undertaking about $50 million in improvements to our facilities and I don’t think a lot of people realize it,” Norton said.
And, the goal is that savings realized by the improvements and efficiencies brought to operations will assist in paying down any debt incurred, Norton said, adding the district has a $1.1 million Volunteer Florida grant that will be a portion of the overall economic pie, though the money availability expires in October.
“We want to deliver reliability, efficiency, functionality and maintainability,” said Justin Newbern with Johnson Controls.
Johnson Controls will provide a detailed proposal on the first phase of the project in late March, that phase focused on the central energy plants of both high schools.
“Everything we are looking at (is) badly needed,” Newbern said. “This is an opportunity for the board to be proactive.
“We have a lot to do between now and March. It is a very detailed project.”
Johnson Controls will completely replace heating and air conditioning systems at both high schools.
The work would include combining and moving chilling units at Wewahitchka Jr./Sr. High School, replacing essential units at Port St. Joe Jr./Sr. High School to eliminate the need for a rental chiller costing the district thousands each month.
Some of that equipment dates to 1967, said Woody Borders, the district’s maintenance supervisor.
The project will also include changing out the equipment where electrical comes into each building and design and construct new energy management systems.
Lighting will be replaced with more energy-efficient LED lights and the new energy system will allow temperature to be controlled in each individual classroom.
“That will be a big deal for teachers and students,” said school board member Ruby Knox, noting that during her teaching days one classroom could be cold while next door the classroom was too hot.
Johnson Controls will provide training to district workers on all the new equipment and systems.
In addition, the project will involve bringing uniformity and efficiency to plumbing, even down to rest room features, and sealing, or replacing, doors and windows for more energy efficiency.
The timeline would be to finish the energy plant work by October 2020 so that the district does not lose the grant funding and to perform the bulk of the work during the summer while schools are empty.
The entire first phase, which would also include rehabbing the roofs in the administration building, would be completed in summer 2021, Newbern said.