Lake Co. school renovation plan hits delay over contract fees

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LAKE COUNTY, Fla. - Plans to renovate a Lake County school have hit another delay.

As the school board prepares to pay $12.6 million for the renovation of Eustis Heights Elementary School, board member Bill Mathias has tabled the contract because of a charge of $128,000 to relocate workers to Lake County for construction.

Typically this is a fee paid for by the company, not the client.

Mathias asked why the company can't hire in Lake County. The board discussed the matter this afternoon.

The school board is between a rock and hard place – it's already approved funding, but may be obligated to give more.

Tom Walsh has been a plumber in Lake County for more than three decades. He, like many tradesmen in the area, is concerned that local tax dollars aren't going to local workers.

"It's very frustrating, I've been here since 1977 and one of the issues we deal with is a lot of out-of-town people coming in," Walsh said.

Now the Lake County School Board is weighing options to relocate workers to the county to build the project.

Walsh said it doesn't make any sense.

Mathias raised concerns at the last meeting, tabling the plan.

"We ought to be giving the local contractors in our community that employ people and pay taxes, they're the ones that ought to be doing the work," Mathias said.

The contract is with Allstate Construction, a Tallahassee firm.

Board members asked Monday if the system is set up to favor big companies, squeezing out local bids. They will have to wait for an answer in three weeks, when they take up the $12.6 million question again.

The board is taking another look at the bid, including what can be done to hire local workers.

The soonest the district could make a decision is after its next meeting.

While $128,000 is only a small fraction of the cost, board members say it's the principal of keeping local tax dollars local.