The Hamilton County Board of Education will pay Hickory Construction of Alcoa, Tenn., up to $21.4 million to build a new Ooltewah Elementary School.
The board voted 8-0 to approve the low bid, though questions arose over the value of using local contractors for school jobs.
Board member Greg Martin asked whether the board should give preference to local builders and what benefit such a move might have on the local economy.
Assistant Superintendent of Auxiliary Services Gary Waters advised against showing preference to local firms. He said the board might have to seek a change in policy if it were to start rejecting low bids in favor of local bidders. Even then he said such a rule could hurt future bid processes.
"I think it serves as a detriment to competition," he said. "This is a fair and open bid contest."
Board member Rhonda Thurman said a local preference policy may hurt local contractors when they go to bid on out-of-town projects. She said others may not want to accept bids from Hamilton County firms if such a rule exists here.
"That's a very slippery slope. You have to be very careful I think," said Thurman, who said she has relatives in the construction business.
The second-lowest bid on the 1,000-student Ooltewah Elementary was about $1.3 million higher than that of Hickory. The highest of the seven bids reached about $28.7 million.
The school will replace the undersized and outdated Ooltewah Elementary at 9232 Lee Highway. The new building is planned for a 33-acre tract of land off Ooltewah-Georgetown Road just west of Interstate 75.
Waters said Hickory Construction had solid references and has much experience building government and school buildings, though they haven't built any schools here before.
Hickory's bid of $21,454,548, calls for a completion date of Aug. 1, 2013. If the school isn't complete, the company can take until June 1, 2014, though it will forfeit $545,000 for the delay, documents show.
Waters said the firm is confident the project can be completed by the 2013 date.
"They are very confident they will complete the school on time," he said. "It's certainly a financial incentive. It's an all or nothing deal for them."