By Kyle DeBeer, The Belton Independent School District
At tonight’s meeting, the Belton ISD Board of Trustees closed out the district’s 2012 bond program, which included the construction of High Point Elementary, Chisholm Trail Elementary and North Belton Middle School. The three campuses were completed for $3,119,390 less than the district had budgeted.
“These are excellent facilities completed at a substantial savings for Belton ISD. They meet our students’ needs and will serve our community well for decades to come,” said Randy Pittenger, board president.
Trustees also approved a settlement agreement with Baird/Williams Construction Ltd., which served as the construction manager at risk for the projects. The agreement follows an 18-month review of the company’s billing.
“In reviewing the bills submitted for each of the three schools, our focus has been on ensuring that our taxpayers are treated fairly and that they receive the best value for their tax dollars,” said Dr. Susan Kincannon, superintendent.
In December 2013, Belton ISD officials learned that Comal ISD suspected that they had been overbilled for projects managed by Baird/Williams Construction.
Belton ISD subsequently hired the accounting firm of Pattillo, Brown & Hill, L.L.P. to conduct an independent review of the bills submitted by Baird/Williams Construction. Reports submitted by the accountants identified significant unsubstantiated charges for the three schools.
Belton ISD challenged the unsubstantiated charges and ultimately participated in two separate mediation sessions in an attempt to resolve them. After the second mediation ended without resolving the disputes over billing for Chisholm Trail Elementary and North Belton Middle School, the mediator proposed the settlement agreement that trustees approved.
With the agreement, the final cost of Chisholm Trail Elementary is $12,685,840, which is $868,050 under budget, and the final cost of North Belton Middle School is $24,679,477, which is $1,601,984 under budget. The cost of High Point Elementary was finalized last year at $12,654,376, which is $649,356 under budget.
Pittenger said, “As a taxpayer and a board member, I appreciate the diligence that the staff has shown in questioning construction expenses. It was clearly the right step to bring in an outside accountant for an independent review of the billing on these projects. That review led to significant, additional savings for our taxpayers.”
Kincannon told the board that the ongoing scrutiny of the payment applications resulted in more than $1,000,000 of savings and that the mediator’s proposed settlement agreement represented almost $500,000 in additional savings.
Kincannon said, “It has taken 18 months to get to this point. … While this has been a time-intensive process, it has been worth it to make sure that our taxpayers are treated fairly and that they receive the best value for their tax dollars.”