In a difficult decision with all three firms being amply qualified, the School Board decided Wednesday to offer a contract to Binkley/Garcia Architecture & Interior Design to design two new middle schools.
The board voted 7-0 to hire the Nashville-based firm. Board Member Linda Jones was absent from the meeting.
In addition to Binkley/Garcia, the board interviewed architects from two other Knoxville-based firms — McCarty Holsaple McCarty Architecture & Interior Designs and redChair:architects — in a special set meeting that lasted nearly four hours.
Before the board voted, Chair CleiJo Walker summed up what members were facing in their decision.
“Obviously, all three have strengths, and all three are very capable,” she said, referring to carrying out the board’s wishes to design two middle schools, estimated to cost between $46 million and $48 million.
The County Commission recently took the first financial step toward building the two new middle schools by approving to fund $1.8 million to go toward engineering and design services.
Each firm was asked a series of questions by board members and was given an opportunity at the end of the query to highlight their top credentials.
Joseph Binkley, principal architect and firm co-owner with principal architect partner Roy Garcia, told the board that Binkley/Garcia could have plans ready in eight to 12 weeks and would be able to start design work on the two projects in the next few days.
He explained that the firm’s forte is designing school buildings which has been its core work since its beginnings in 2000.
“We’ve grown up in public education,” Binkley said.
The firms were asked how they would handle the project’s budget, how they would design the buildings with student safety in mind, how they would work with contractors, how they would work with the School Board, and how they would involve students, faculty and parents in what the new schools should contain and offer as educational amenities.
All three have designed larger schools, and Binkley’s track record includes design work on LaVergne, Siegal and Stewarts Creek high schools, Smyrna Middle School and Stewarts Creek Elementary School, plus others.
The three firms had each received design awards and had garnered accolades from state educational officials for some of the facilities they have developed.
Director of Schools Stanley Bean said the board’s action involves offering Binkley/Garcia the contract. If the firm declines, it would open the field up for the others to vie for the contract, he added.
The Franklin County Commission voted 10-3 on July 16 to fund the $1.8 million to hire an architectural firm to design the two new middle schools. Doug Goodman, David Eldridge and Gene Snead Jr. were in opposition while Lisa Mason, Sam Hiles and Helen Stapleton were absent from the meeting.
Before the vote was taken, Commission Chairman Eddie Clark said he believes the county is in solid enough financial shape to fund the $1.8 million on an interest-only payment schedule until the debt on the Franklin County High School is paid off in four years.
Clark said the middle school projects could be funded without a property tax increase if the debt on the high school is paid off first.
He said the county is expected to experience growth in the coming years which will help its financial situation.
Commissioners supporting the two projects said the separate upgraded campuses are what most residents have expressed they have wanted. They said building two new middle schools would allow for smaller classrooms with better pupil-teacher ratios, classes would be disturbed much less during construction, and the age-old rivalry between North and South middle schools in athletics and extra-curricular programs would remain intact.
Eldridge questioned the cost of the two schools, saying they could be renovated at a much cheaper cost. He said he could consider one consolidated middle school or renovating the two campuses, but he could not go for two new schools.
Eldridge said the county has other schools older than North and South, and their replacement or upgrades will have to be considered at some point in the overall budget picture.