The Board of Education and the Army Corps of Engineers in Savannah were unable to come to a lease agreement by Thursday night, the absolute latest deadline issued by Gilbane Construction Company that would ensure a fall 2010 opening date for the new middle school on Fort Stewart.
The board has yet to set a new opening date as complications with the lease continue to plague the process.
Superintendent Dr. Judy Scherer said the two issues regarding the lease remain unresolved: First, she wants to make sure the Liberty County School System has property rights to the building should Fort Stewart close in the next 50 years. Second, Scherer’s concerned with what is going to happen to the property after 50 years.
The board was equally divided over the relevance of these issues.
Scherer said she is uncomfortable with the language of the current lease and recommended the board continue negotiating the terms. She said her main concern is protecting the BoE’s $20 million investment.
“We have to be careful we don’t sign away our rights as a school system,” Scherer said.
She said many other schools systems have been allowed to waive these clauses and she wants the same rights for LCSS.
Marcia Anderson agreed and said, although she was not happy about slowing the process, she didn’t want to move forward until the lease was definite.
“There’s no guarantee that we’ll ever come to an agreement with the lease,” she said. “I want to stop the process until we have a lease.”
While Dr. Scherer said they wouldn’t have to invest more money to continue the negotiating process, other board members said that they didn’t have problems signing the lease as is and moving on with pre-construction efforts now.
Verdell Jones said she was frustrated with the news that the lease was not finalized yet.
“I’m a little bit taken that at this point we’re still hung up on language,” Jones said, adding that the terms in question were in all standard military leases.
“There are certain things that protect government agencies,” she said. Jones also requested that the board seek advice from local attorney Kelly Davis. She said having a local resident talk the Corp in Savannah could help.
Because a fall 2010 opening is now out of the question, the board is considering two new opening dates: January 2011 and August 2011.
There was not a representative from Fort Stewart present at the meeting, but according to Fort Stewart Public Affairs Media Chief Kevin Larson, the military is still working closely with system to smooth out details.
“FSGA leadership is working closely with the Corps of Engineers and the Liberty County School Board to finalize the terms of the land lease for the middle school,” he said. “This school is greatly needed by Fort Stewart and the local community, and we are pleased to work in partnership with the BoE to provide the land for the school, and there are no show stoppers that we are aware of. We look forward to its opening at the earliest possible date.”