Choosing to live in the present, Mineral Wells ISD Superintendent Ray Crass says the school district’s bond project is today manageable financially, despite construction costs that are $1.61 million beyond the voter-authorized $13.95 million amount.

Crass met Thursday with members of the Mineral Wells Index editorial and management staff, providing numbers that carry a bottom line, present-day funding surplus of $6,084. He said he was “comfortable” in providing his figures and wanted to make them public.

Thursday’s two-hour meeting came after Crass and board member Rodney Henderson requested a Feb. 27 meeting with members of the Mineral Wells Industrial Foundation, explaining what had been reported as a $2.8 million cost overrun on the football stadium and athletics complex.

That complex was pitched to voters as a $9.5 million project, but came in at $12.1 million total after bidding. Crass said, though, in reality the bond project was still under its $13.5 million authorization at that time since the proposed $3.5 million junior high project had not been bid. That project eventually came in $500,000 under its proposed cost.

Ultimately, the district was facing having to deal with construction costs totaling $15.56 million. Crass said construction changes were made to reduce the costs, including removing $914,000 from the stadium project’s bond program by choosing to acquire the 7,000 bleacher seats through a lease-purchase agreement that the district will now repay out of its general fund over the next 15 years at a total cost of some $1.2 million, including interest.

To show the overall project is currently within reason financially, Crass presented “revenues” of $13.95 million through the original bond sale, $914,350 acquired through a bank loan for the stadium seating and $550,000 in estimated interest from the deposited loan funds.

Crass said an additional contingency amount was built into the maximum construction price for the athletics complex that he said now stands at $154,000, which he said if unused means the overall bond project currently has $6,084 in excess of the total cost.

However, based on responses and questions from the Index members present, Crass acknowledged that his figures do not reflect the 15-year stadium seating loan payments but said his numbers are meant to show where the project stands today while the district’s staff and board continue to seek ways to offset the increased construction costs.

He agreed that what he was showing as “revenue” today in the form of deposited loan proceeds from the lease-purchase loan will become debt as the note is repaid.

To pay off the yearly fee of $82,970 for the lease purchase, Crass said they will set aside $10,000 in maintenance funds for Miller Stadium, use anticipated revenue from playoff games and soccer games and use one to two other revenue sources such as scoreboard advertising.

“From this day forward, we will continue to try to come up with ways to cut the project and continue to fall within a workable situation,” said Crass, adding that he believes right now the district can offset that expense by at least $30,000.

Referring to the figures he sketched out for the Index, Crass said he brought what, “I think I’m comfortable with. It’s manageable right now.”

Crass was asked if the bleachers, once pulled out of the bond project, were acquired through an open bidding process. He said they were not because the original construction bid “was low and the company agreed to honor the bid for the lease-purchase.” He did, however, agree to ask the district’s legal representatives whether the district should have openly bid its acquisition of the seats.

He also answered questions regarding the lease-purchase loan with Banc of America.

“In October, I received a verbal direction to get quotes from lending institutions,” stated Crass.

Banc of America had the lowest interest rate for a 15-year amortization at 4.07 percent. Crass provided the Index with the lease-purchase agreement from Banc of America dated Feb. 7.

Crass said the district also received quotes from TASB-First Republic (4.63 percent), General Electric Capital Public Finance, Inc. (5.25 percent) and City National Bank of Mineral Wells (5.25 percent), but did not supply copies of bids from other lending institutions.

When asked what other options or considerations he found, Crass said, “There were not many funding options.”

Asked who was involved in advising him toward a lease-purchase agreement, obtaining bids and deciding on Banc of America Corporation, Crass answered, “We have been planning the multi-purpose complex for about four years.” According to Crass, advising and obtaining bids included “school board members” and deciding on Banc of America included Crass as well as “Paul Hearn, Charles Shewmake and school board members.”

Crass said the district relied upon architect’s estimated figures until the hard bids came in last October. He said it is almost impossible to try and bid a project of such magnitude with actual, guaranteed materials and labor costs. He said district officials did not know until October that the athletics complex was over its planned budget by some 25 percent, as acknowledged in a Nov. 7 board meeting. Crass said he, board members, the architects Huckabee and at-risk construction manager Buford Thompson Co. all scrambled to make cuts before the guaranteed maximum price was set.

Several times Crass was asked who was involved in and present at meetings to discuss stadium changes in October and November. He said that, “Ty [Gore, president] appointed Rodney and myself to do the legwork,” and said that Shewmake was also involved.

Crass added that, “Board members always have the fair opportunity to attend a planning session.”

Crass said he wanted to put the numbers and answers out to bond voters, “So they could see we have figured out a way to pay for [the bond] without having to come back to voters.”

Crass concluded Thursday’s meeting by saying that the district will address future needs, such as a new campus, when they become needs and stated, “I do what my board tells me.”

If he could turn back time after they received hard bids and discovered they were off and do one thing differently, Crass said he would “organize a gathering of key leaders” like the Industrial Foundation before going public.

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