VALDOSTA -- County Commissioners unanimously approved a bid for the renovation of the Leila Ellis School building at their Tuesday meeting.

The building will eventually house offices for Lowndes Associated Ministries to People, a general health clinic for area residents, as well as other office and classroom space.

The $732,900 project was awarded to Dan Hutchinson Construction, despite the fact that the project is still $135,000 over budget. The renovations, originally priced at $1.3 million, were pared down to meet available funds.

Commissioners elected to go ahead and bid the proposal and try to make up the shortfall through grant opportunities or other funding options.

"Let's light this candle," Commission Chairman Rod Casey said. "If you're going to do something, you've got to do it right."

The county received a $500,000 Community Development Block Grant in 1999, and a $250,000 Housing Opportunities for Persons With AIDS grant for the project, but higher than expected costs for asbestos and lead paint abatement increased costs.

Commissioners discussed tabling the matter until a concrete funding source could be determined, but Laurel Hahlen with the South Central Georgia Task Force for the Homeless told the Board that the project needed to be completed because it was increasingly difficult to apply for additional grant funds until the existing grants were closed out. She told Commissioners that the county had missed out on more than $160,000 in other grant opportunities because the Leila Ellis project was not moving forward.

An additional HOPWA grant, more funding from the Georgia Department of Community Affairs and negotiations with the contractor over some supplemental features were all discussed as options for resolving the funding crunch.

To contact reporter Bill Roberts, please 244-3400, ext. 245.

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