Midway school: No money? No problem?

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City manager says charter school will open on schedule next year

By Alice Du Pont

Midway’s City Manager Auburn Ford Jr. said he has no doubt the Midway Charter School will open on time in August 2014. 

“We’re advertising for a construction manager for the school this week,” Ford said.

However, hiring a manager will depend on whether or not the consultant who will put the grant package together for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the funding source for the construction phase of the physical plant, has been hired.

“We’re confident that USDA will release the funds because the grant writer is the person they recommended. All we’re waiting on now is for the state Department of Economic Opportunity to release the funds they have been withholding from the fire station,” Ford said.

The state withheld funds, totaling approximately $305,000, from the city when authorities learned that required paperwork had not been submitted, some subcontractors had not been paid and payments were made from the general fund without the knowledge or permission of the city council.

Ford said he has been assured by DEO officials that they have received everything requested from the city, and the funds will be released within a few days. He said the state is being “very tedious” about the reports before funds are released.

When DOE releases the funds, Ford said, about $100,000 will go to unpaid contractors and the rest will be returned to the city’s general fund. When that happens, the grant writer for charter school funding will be hired and work can begin on the school.

“Once they release the funds, they will call Capital City Bank to let them know that the money is coming,” Ford said. “I have secured a line of credit with the bank to cover that amount.”

Earlier this month, Ford told the city council that construction of a new school would take longer than they have per the agreement with the Gadsden County School Board. But no one on the council was willing to accept Ford’s suggestion to purchase an old building once used to repair diesel trucks.

“Why can’t we wait until August 2015 to open and then we can build a new building? I don’t know about you all, but I’m not going to risk the children’s health because we don’t know what’s in the walls or the ground at that place,” Councilperson Delores Madison said at the last council meeting.

Ford said the already constructed building would cost about $1million to acquire and $1.5 million to refurbish. The new construction the council wants will cost about $4 million. 

“Waiting until 2015 will not work. The Gadsden County School Board has already announced they will close the (elementary) school in Havana based on what we do,” said Councilperson Chuck Willis.

Ford agreed that the school needs to be ready to accommodate those Midway students who will probably leave the public school for the charter school. That was the reason, he said, for recommending the already constructed building.

“They want the newly constructed school so we will find someone who can construct a new building in six months.” Ford said. “It can be done.”

The bottom line remains that DEO must release $305,000 to Midway that it has been withholding, a grant writer has to be hired and a grant written and funded by USDA, the school must be constructed, a principal and teachers must be hired (along with chairs, desks and all that goes into a school must be ordered and delivered), and the school has to open for business in 13 months.