With work on the Martin Luther King Center gym stalled, architects are urging McComb officials to cut spending on the project and line up a contractor.

The city board held a Zoom meeting with M3A architecture representatives regarding the gym designs on Tuesday.

Architects urged the city to make changes to make sure the project would stay under budget.

“We won’t say the building is in the budget. This is the smallest, most economical delivery we can come up with,” M3A managing member William McElroy said. “I suggest, as we have before, that this gets out to bid as soon as possible before all the good contracts are sewn up.”

M3A project architect Olutosin Kusa guided the board through the proposed final design, noting that the  9,400-square foot building would be about $175 a square foot.

Selectman Michael Cameron said he believed it wouldn’t be possible to stay under budget while keeping hardwood floors, showers and office space.

“I’m not sure about your household, but I want a lot of things around my house that I don’t have, and the city has, too,” Cameron said, noting that the project is still 18% over budget. “A budget is a budget, and wishful thinking is great, but I would like a lot of things around my home and business that I know I can’t afford.”

Kusa said that the city came to the firm with “a bunch of recommendations” and he had this conversation many times before cutting costs, but the board insisted on the more expensive features. He said he presented alternate plans that would lower the cost — if city officials could reach a compromise.

The exchange ended with Mayor Quordiniah Lockley telling the architect to make cuts in some areas while salvaging as much as possible on the city’s wish list. McElroy, however, said officials should opt for cheaper rubberized floors and cut lockerrooms, showers and foldable bleachers from the main plan.

“I know that you only have $1.3 (million), but nobody ever wants to accept the rubberized floors. Nobody ever wants to take the recommendation, and at some point — and this is that point — it is forcing us to do something I would prefer not to do,” he said, referring to seeking bids for a plan he suspects will come in over budget.

McElroy said that by seeking bids with the design that a committee approved the board would be “hoping against hope” to get the project within budget.

“I would prefer to put a building out that is $1.3 (million), but we have exhausted ourselves making these arguments that this is what these things cost,” he said.  “We are happy to do this because we are being insisted, but when it comes in at $1.7 (million) and we can’t get it to $1.3 (million). I guess we will figure that out down the line, but that involves more time — doing what we said needed to be done roughly nine months ago.”

Though the architects said the board needed a sense of urgency, the board ultimately voted to skip the items on the agenda about the MLK gym, with Lockley noting the city did not receive a final design.

Cameron also took issue with the fact that the project was already put out to bid before board approval and asked Lockley how that happened. Lockley explained that M3A officials thought they had permission, but did not have written approval.

“The committee just met with them, and they put it out for bid,” Lockley said, prompting Cameron to ask if the committee pulled the trigger. “No, M3A. Without getting proof, and I had to put a stop to that because I called them and told them that they had not presented the plan to the city nor had the city authorized them to bid the project out.

“They admitted that they had nothing in writing, and they went out there on their own, so before the accusation gets out there that the mayor or anyone on this board authorized that, no, we did not authorize that.”

The board also approved a $3,500 payment to GP Engineering & Surveying for field surveying, civil site design and office, drafting and research for the MLK gym.

The vote was 4-1 with selectmen Shawn Williams, Donovan Hill, Ronnie Brock and Johnson approving the payment and Selectman Ted Tullos opposing. Cameron was absent for the vote after being asked to leave the board room for not wearing a mask.

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