2 Lake County school projects over budget by $3M

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LAKE COUNTY, Fla. - Channel 9 has learned the budget for the Lake County School District next year is coming up short by $10 million and plans to remodel two schools are over budget by $3 million, which puts the district in an even bigger bind.

Reporter Berndt Petersen was in Lake County Monday for the the school board's regular meeting, where he learned board members don't want to cancel the remodeling projects.

Eustis Heights Elementary School and Umatilla Middle School are both in need of major makeovers, but between the two of them, the work will cost the district $3 million more than expected.

"We're a third over budget. I mean, that's a big miss," said board member Tod Howard.

Channel 9 listened to the audio recordings of a recent school board workshop where board members expressed their frustration.

"When we're struggling to find money and we're talking about cutting teachers in one side of our mouth, and the other side of our mouth we're going, 'We need air-conditioning, so we'll spend an extra $1 million?'" said board member Bill Mathias.

The board was critical of the superintendent's staff, whose estimates were based on 2010 construction costs, but those costs are much higher as of 2013.

"Estimates are estimates. At that point, they're never going to be exact," said Chris Patton of Lake County Public Schools.

Mathias, who doesn't like the fact that contractors from outside the county are doing the work, suggested throwing those contractors out and hiring local ones, but there may be no turning back now.

The district is likely stuck with the higher prices, but some want to make sure it never happens again.

"Every single thing that we deal with from this construction side is not correct, ever, whether high or low, and it's not close. This just keeps happening, and it has to stop," said Howard.

The board will vote on the Umatilla school project on Tuesday. That project entails a major upgrade of the school's electrical wiring and a new A/C system.