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Money is here for Hillsborough school construction; materials are less certain

Manufacturing shut-downs could slow some of this summer’s work
Aerial photo of construction of Sumner High School near homes and new construction in the Southfork Lakes subdivision on Saturday, March 7, 2020 in Riverview.
Aerial photo of construction of Sumner High School near homes and new construction in the Southfork Lakes subdivision on Saturday, March 7, 2020 in Riverview. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]
Published Apr. 24, 2020
Updated Apr. 27, 2020

TAMPA — As they await income projections from the state, Hillsborough County School District leaders are sweating some details in important construction projects.

Supplies are one area of concern as the COVID-19 heath crisis disrupts commerce around the nation, an oversight committee was told Friday as it met for updates on the county’s half-cent referendum sales tax.

Sumner High School, now under construction in Riverview, is supposed to get auditorium seats from Michigan, where the governor shut down manufacturing. Construction managers are also waiting for flooring materials for Sumner, and hoping they will arrive on time for the school’s August opening.

Supplies could also be an issue as the district continues to replace ailing air conditioners. Trane, one of nation’s major air conditioning manufacturers, informed the district in writing that it is experiencing delays of 30 days or more. Other suppliers are also hinting at delays. To be safe, the district is not removing any equipment until it has verification that the new machines have arrived.

Chris Farkas, deputy superintendent for operations at the Hillsborough County Public Schools . [Times (2018)]
Chris Farkas, deputy superintendent for operations at the Hillsborough County Public Schools . [Times (2018)]

Sixteen new air conditioning jobs are planned this summer, along with follow-up work on five from 2019. Because taxes revenues arrive several months after consumers have made their purchases, revenues are still on pace with last year’s, deputy Superintendent Chris Farkas told the committee. Money is in hand and, because school buildings are closed for the remainder of the school year, workers can actually get a four-week jump on some projects.

“This summer’s projects are going on full force,” Farkas said.

“What’s going to be affected is the next docket of projects for the fall, for next summer, that’s what’s going to change for us. We have contacted everybody under the sun, trying to get a forcast of what the sales tax is going to look like."

Within days, the state is expected to release numbers for February, when spending slowed toward the end of the month. In about five weeks, information will be released for March, a crucial month.

Depending on those numbers, the district might have to pare back next summer’s 20 air conditioning projects to 10 or 15.

The bigger picture concerns state funding for education as a whole.

Superintendent Addison Davis told the group he is bracing for a 10 to 15 percent cut in state funding, as state leaders were discussing a week or two ago.

“Eighty-plus percent of that is linked to personnel,” he said. He is looking for other places to cut, including outside contracts. He said he is also hopeful that the hit will not be as severe as 10 percent as the state dips into its reserves and the federal government releases more stimulus funding and education grants.

He said he will argue that education funding cannot be cut, as students already will have lost ground during the shift to distance learning, and in the usual “summer slide” as schools are closed.

Back at Sumner, Farkas and his team are holding out hope that the flooring arrives on time.

As for the auditorum seats, they might go with another vendor.