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Bids for school considered high

Citrus County's fourth middle school could cost nearly $10-million to construct, considerably more than school officials had hoped to pay.

But even after bids were opened for the project Friday, one school official said the actual cost still could be reduced without giving up quality construction.

The bids opened Friday ranged from $9.3-million to $10.5-million. The original estimate for the school was $7-million. Tom Williford, school system general services director, said the final cost could be less because he planned to negotiate costs with the subcontractors who would work on the job.

The low bidder was Ajax Construction, but Williford said he heard that the Ajax bid could be withdrawn. The next lowest bidder was Mark Construction with a bid of $9.975-million.

Shortly after the bid opening, Williford was scheduled to begin talks with the subcontractors. Officials hope to cut costs so a lower bid could be realized in time for the School Board to consider accepting a bid later this month.

The opening for the school is scheduled for fall 1994 on a 40-acre parcel in Citrus Springs. The School Board has agreed to buy the site on West Citrus Springs Boulevard for $125,000 from the NORSUNCO Corp., but has not yet completed the purchase.

School officials have been waiting for the conclusion of a lengthy rezoning and land reclassification process through the Citrus County Commission before finalizing the deal.

Last month, School Board attorney Richard "Spike" Fitzpatrick said he would probably recommend that the board proceed with the purchase because the county's rezoning process may end too late for the board to buy, then build the school.

The projected student capacity for the building is 658 students. Williford said he plans to push ahead with the first addition to the new school as soon as possible.

That addition, which would cost another $4-million, would raise the school's final capacity to 1,298 students.

One of the major tasks facing school administrators over the next few months is the attempt to carve out the attendance area that will draw the students to populate the school.

Officials have said they would get an early start on that job, hoping to get information to the families of prospective students. They also hope to avoid a public relations disaster such as the highly disputed attendance rezoning that was undertaken to populate Rock Crusher Elementary and which shifted students from Lecanto middle and high schools to the Crystal River middle and high schools several years ago.

Although there were few complaints from parents whose children were being pulled from various elementary school districts to attend the brand new Rock Crusher facility, other parents fought to keep their students from moving from Lecanto to Crystal River. .

Officials have said they hope to relieve the overcrowded conditions at Inverness Middle School and draw from the Lecanto and Crystal River middle school zones as well in creating the attendance zone.

Williford said he was somewhat disappointed with the bids and he had hoped to see a cost closer to the amount budgeted. The school itself was born of a simple design.

"I don't think anybody could ever come in and say, this is kind of fancy," he said. "But we're trying to teach kids, not necessarily build municipal monuments."

The Citrus schools have been complimented by state officials for their consistent ability to construct new buildings for far less than the statewide average cost per square foot.

The current statewide average is about $68 a square foot, and Williford had hoped bids for this school would be at least $10 a square foot less than that.

"It'll be fine, really and truly," Williford said. "You really can do something nice for less money."

The new school will be the first middle school built in the county in more than a decade. Since the construction of the Lecanto Middle School, Citrus County has built and opened Hernando Elementary, Citrus Springs Elementary, Pleasant Grove Elementary and Rock Crusher Elementary schools.

School officials already have begun discussing the need for a fourth high school by the end of the decade.

Within the next year, Citrus County will conduct a school plant survey, a formal five-year construction plan implemented by the state Department of Education. That survey lists the new construction and school addition needs for the district. A listing in that survey is required before a district can expend state construction dollars on a particular project.