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Barnwell school facing unexpected cost overruns

Posted on August 24, 2017 by Taber Times

By Greg Price
Taber Times
gprice@tabertimes.com

Barnwell School Committee came with hat in hand to Barnwell council, asking if it could help out in anyway in an unforeseen $330,000 shortfall in funding for the Barnwell School modernization.

An organization that has been meeting since 2014, before that, the organization was the Barnwell School Alumni Committee.

“We’ve had the same two goals for all those years. One was to enhance the facilities that were going to be built in the school and the second goal was to identify and invite all the stakeholders, both private and public, to participate in the enhancement of those facilities,” said Morgan Johnson, chairman of the Barnwell School Committee to Barnwell village council at its July meeting. “We do appreciate the support of the village which was $250,000 along with other ways of support, not least of which was the approval of the concept of a community-school library. It will benefit the village and that library will be a wonderful facility. The community also supported us by restoring bricks at the water-treatment plant, so you have contributed already $250,000.”

The M.D. of Taber committed $200,000 cash and also obtained a grant for $350,000. They offered gravel of which the committee used approximately $80,000 worth. The M.D. offered $150,000 maximum worth of gravel so council topped up a follow-up offer of $70,000 in a matching contribution according to Johnson. The Society of Barnwell Parents for Quality Education contributed $185,000 along with securing a grant for $10,000. Horizon School Division has put in $300,000 towards the project according to Johnson, plus bridge funding.

“We have come across a problem. We were disadvantaged along the way. The amount appropriated for the school was ($9.2) million dollars and the bid was under $8 million, so the school board, nor us did we get any advantage of that which if it (the project) had been the previous year, under a previous (PC) government,” said Johnson.

Compounding the problem for the Barnwell School Committee is an anticipated grant fell through for the project.

“We had 99 per cent feelings that we would get the grant, which we didn’t, which was $150,000,” said Johnson. “The second problem was what we were charged for the 290 square metres of the gym. Instead of $1,750 dollars per square metre, our committee was charged $2,250 a square metre. That’s another $150,000 just for that, plus with a few other shortfalls, there’s $330,170 that the school board said we need to come up with.”

There is a plan in place according to that the committee will be able to come up with $150,000 by the end of August.

The committee is meeting with Horizon School Division board of trustees on Aug. 29 to request a five-year time frame to meet the overall shortfall past the $150,000 the committee is anticipating it will have raised by the end of August.

“The request we have for Barnwell council is quite simple. We ask you to consider any way that you can financially help us. We know that we are contributing greatly to the facilities and services in Barnwell which has been a result of our enhancement,” said Johnson. “We help provide recreational and artistic cultural arts, science. Since the project provides service to the community, we ask you to consider further assistance.”

The committee also inquired about any grant expertise the village administration may have in helping to secure grant funding for the committee.

“The village itself can’t come up with that. If we were to give you a big chunk of money, where we would have to go is to our taxpayers and raise everyone’s rates,” said Barnwell Mayor Jane Jensen. “We have already put out through taxes a quarter million dollars. I just find this interesting that this was all approved and all the sudden you are short that much. The school division are the ones that came up with the plans are they not?”

The $250,000 original contribution of Village of Barnwell did was phased over three years according to Mayor Jensen. The village has already passed its 2017 budget which makes extra funding difficult to any degree.

“And I don’t know of any grant we could access,” said Jensen.

Johnson stressed again that the Barnwell School Committee is looking at a five-year plan to raise whatever was left of the $330,000, so no immediate huge burden would come on any entity that would look to put money towards the project as the organization will also be looking for grant funding during that time.

Part of the disconnect as members of the Barnwell School Committee pointed out was the project funding guidelines were first approved under the previous provincial governments with now new parameters set up under the current NDP government.

“When the bid came in, the first cost consultant was almost $13 million dollars and our portion was quite large and we told them they were off on the bid and they would not agree with us. So we ended up cutting out some really cool things that we had already put in, so we ended up taking them out,” said Sheldon Hoyt, a member of the Barnwell School Committee who was present at the meeting. “The agreement was we’d get those back if the bid was low enough, but in that time frame, a new government came in and the bid came in under and they just took it away and never gave it back to us. We were way under, when we first started the project about five years ago they had set $9.2 million away for the project and that wasn’t including the cost from us (of enhancements from the base).”

“In spite of that, we are very pleased with the facility that was there. It is a wonderful addition to the community and it will benefit everyone in the community. Even though we’ve been slapped down a few times with it, we feel it’s well worth it,” added Johnson. “We’ve had some rough setbacks, really rough setbacks that are no fault of ours or anyone else in this room. It’s been about government and conditions. Under these circumstances, we don’t like to come here with cap i hand asking for more help, but that’s the situation.”

The Village of Barnwell council accepted the delegation as information in which it would discuss at a later time its options in aiding the school committee.

“We will look into what we can do. We’ve already passed our budget, so to create money out of the hat, we don’t have the rabbit in the hat or the fancy wand,” said Jensen.

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