After two years of planning and a handful of delays, Horry County Schools is making movement toward building five new schools.
The district released the Request for Qualifications (RFQ) a second time Thursday after tossing out original conceptual design plans in November. Horry County Board of Education cited a need to request and review energy-positive designs for new schools, but kept its earlier plans for remodels and additions to two other schools.
Unlike last year’s request, the current RFQ was written by district staff and board members in conjuction with Childs and Halligan, a law firm out of Columbia that’s partnered with the district before for other legal reasons. Bick Halligan, with the firm, said it isn’t uncommon for school districts to seek the help of lawyers while writing large-scale contracts.
“The [RFQ] is establishing a large contractual relationship over a period of time, and that’s the sort of thing lawyers are involved in,” Halligan said.
The firm charges about $200 per hour for the services, Halligan said. The total amount the district spent on legal costs was not available Friday night.
The district has budgeted $161.7 million to build five new schools, said John Gardner, chief financial officer. The total cost of the project is $451.6 million.
South Carolina’s procurement laws can be tricky, Halligan said, so the district wanted to make sure everything was worded correctly and legally – especially since the district is asking for high performance, energy-positive schools.
“The procurement rule book is a very big document, and we work with several school districts in the state,” Halligan said. “So we worked with Horry to go about everything the right way.”
Joe DeFeo, board chairman, said the district used the law firm because the energy-positive, high performance requests are new for Horry County Schools and the district wanted to make sure the language was specific.
“This was a different project than we’ve done before, and we wanted to use an alternative means to build the schools which we’ve never used before,” DeFeo said.
He said district staff and board members learned more about procurement laws and RFQ specifications by working with Childs and Halligan. Defeo said he is confident the end result will be money-saving school buildings. The call for qualifications also gives architecture and construction firms a level playing field to build the new schools, he said.
Interested companies have until April 7 to submit qualifications to the district. The RFQ specified the need for “high performance – energy positive schools,” meaning the total amount of energy used by the building on an annual basis is less than the amount of renewable energy created on the site.
Halligan said the law firm hasn’t done any work with the district in several years because “the district’s staff is very capable,” but Horry County Schools has enlisted the help of Childs and Halligan before. The firm will also help develop a Request for Proposals once district officials decide on a short-list of qualified firms, Halligan said.
The school board heard a presentation about energy-efficient schools from SfL+a Architects in October 2014, just weeks before conceptual design plans were tossed. SfL+a Architects designed Sandy Grove Middle School – an energy-positive school – in Hoke County, N.C.
The board decided to use a design-build project delivery system for its five new schools, which means a single firm performs both design and construction of each project. Design-build reduces the amount of people who are responsible for the project, thus minimizing blame between different parties, Halligan said.
“That’s a big advantage of design-build,” he said.
DeFeo said all five new schools are expected to open by August 2017. The winning architect’s contract runs through the 2018-2019 school year, according to the RFQ.