The Alabama Gulf Coast may have dodged a bullet when powerful Hurricane Michael stormed ashore on the Florida Panhandle Oct. 16, but the ramifications are being felt in other ways.
From battered docks to eroded beaches and coastal flooding, the storm has some residual side effects, including some that are causing county school officials to delay construction of a new school in Orange Beach for a year.
“It was almost like the perfect storm,” Orange Beach Mayor Tony Kennon said of the delay. “There were multiple factors.”
The Baldwin County Board of Education was hoping to award a bid for the new combination middle and high school in October but only one contractor submitted a bid.
“We didn’t expect to have only one bidder, or for the bid to come in twice as much as we thought it might be,” Baldwin County Superintendent Eddie Tyler said. “We rejected the bid because we will continue to do everything in our power to be wise stewards of the taxpayers’ money, and that starts with taking a hard look at the project in its entirety so that we make good, intelligent, well-thought-out decisions.”
Baldwin County was thinking construction for the school would cost about $25 million but the lone bid — from Thrash Contractors — came in at $42.8 million. Other contractors were scared away from the project by several factors, Kennon said, including losing workers to rebuilding jobs in the wake of Hurricane Michael.
“We wanted a unique school, and those contractors who build cookie cutter-style schools didn’t know exactly what all we wanted,” Kennon said. “They didn’t feel comfortable they could get it done in less than a year. They weren’t comfortable what their labor force would be with the hurricane down south.”
The next step, Tyler said, is restarting negotiations with contractors to get the price of the Orange Beach school back in the range of what county officials planned to spend.
“It should be noted that we are repeatedly being told that steel prices, combined with contractors competing to do work on the Gulf Coast following the hurricane, isn’t helping us at all in lowering the price,” Tyler said.
After meeting with county officials last week, Kennon said that process is expected to be completed by early December.
“They feel like by next week they will have an agreed-upon number with a contractor,” Kennon said. “If not then, by Dec. 4. We feel strongly and safe in saying it’s going to be built, but it won’t open until the fall of 2020.”
Until then, plans for a portable village on city property near Orange Beach Elementary School will house the school’s first round of seventh through ninth grades.
“The current ninth, tenth, eleventh and twelfth graders will stay at Gulf Shores,” Kennon said. “They will finish out there. The kids who are Gulf Shores next year will finish at Gulf Shores. The kids who are at the middle school from Orange Beach will be here next year.”