Matthew Lane • Jul 30, 2007 at 12:00 AM

KINGSPORT - Delaying the opening of a new elementary school in the Rock Springs community should not have an impact on an adjacent housing development or on the city's debt structure, city and community leaders said Monday.

And depending on how much growth the city experiences over the next year, Kingsport City Schools officials say they should be able to handle any additional kindergarten students for one more year.

Last week, City Manager John Campbell announced in a press release the decision had been made to delay the opening of the school from the fall of 2008 to the fall of 2009. Campbell said the reason was "an unfavorable bid climate precipitated by a strong surge in new construction under way in Kingsport and the Tri-Cities."

Translation: Contractors were too busy with other projects and not enough were able to begin the school project in the immediate future.

City and school officials have been working aggressively on the new school project for the past 18 months, trying to bring the school online by the fall of 2008 to coincide with the development of The Edinburgh - a 330-home neighborhood being built off Rock Springs Road. The new school will be built on 14 acres of land within The Edinburgh development.

Current plans show the new school being a crescent-shaped, two-story building of approximately 90,000 square feet with an estimated cost of $16 million.

In July the city sent out a request for bids for the project, and last week KCS officials held a pre-bid conference where only three contractors showed up and only one stated they were prepared to begin work on the new school.

It was at this time city and school officials discussed the matter, with Campbell agreeing the project should be pushed back a year.

"Two or three firms were there, but only one said they were ready to go. What you want to see is at least four or five bidders with two or three that are really close," Campbell said, adding some of the local firms were also at their bonding limit. "We had one that wanted to put it off until the fall saying they had so much going on they couldn't get to it. Another one said they could do it in two or three weeks but had many of their (subcontractors) tied up on other projects.

"If the project had gone out in the spring or early summer, it would have been fine. If we went out now, it would be hard to get the best price."

Rick Russell, project consultant working with KCS on the new school, has said numerous times this year the construction timeline was too aggressive and that the school would not be open by the fall of 2008.

School Superintendent Richard Kitzmiller, who back in May said the new school would be open by the fall of 2008, said in the best-case scenario KCS should be able to handle the growth in kindergarten students. One of the main selling points for the new elementary school was to alleviate the near overcrowding levels at Jefferson and Johnson elementary schools.

"If we can handle it for one more year, then we can probably handle it for two. Worse case would be a large number of kindergartners, and then we would have to do something more drastic," Kitzmiller said, adding that modular units would be one of the possibilities. "It is possible, in the best-case scenario, to not have a large number of school-age children move into the annexed areas.

"One year might still be OK, and we can handle the normal growth and not do anything too drastic."

The Board of Mayor and Aldermen earlier this year approved $17.3 million in bonds for the construction of the new elementary school. Finance officials say $1.5 million of the money has been earmarked for capitalized interest - meaning the interest off of the $1.5 million would go toward the debt payment on the $17.3 million, with the delay not having an impact on the city's overall debt structure.

"We did the bond the way we did in order to have the flexibility to go out and be able to back up if it wasn't the best time," Campbell said.

Danny Karst, spokesman for the group developing The Edinburgh, said he thinks the city made a wise decision in pushing back the date.

"I think (the impact to us) should be negligible because our main thing is to get out there and get the houses built, which is what we're doing," Karst said. "Do we wish the school would have been able to be complete by 2008? Certainly, but (the delay) shouldn't have an impact."

Karst estimates around 20 houses would be completed by the fall of 2008 and around 50 to 60 by the fall of 2009.

"All things considered, I don't think it's that bad of a deal right now."

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