Local Alumnus Challenges Architect On MCHS Building

Screen shot 2014-05-20 at 2.19.27 PMBy Amber Houston
Greene Publishing, Inc.
Construction is still in the planning stages after two years on a weightlifting building at Madison County High School (MCHS). The weightlifting building was the brainchild of MCHS contributor and Madison native, Frank Argenbright, Jr. When he discovered a weightlifting set for sale that once belonged to the Jacksonville Jaguars, he knew that he very much wanted the set to belong to MCHS: Argenbright bought and donated it on the spot. The set is enough to furnish an entire weightlifting gym, and valued at about $200,000 according to Argenbright.
Though he has mostly been a contributor to the football players and team, Argenbright expressed, “I wanted this to be common use—for every student that was interested in weight training.” He has donated to MCHS quite generously over 30 years.
The class of 1966 soon jumped on board with the same spirit of generosity, raising a considerable amount of money towards a building in which to house the equipment. Class member Martha Beggs said, “We are so fortunate to have Frankie in our class. Some people make it big and forget where they come from, but Frankie has never forgotten his roots and he does so much for Madison students. We’re also fortunate to have such a close class: we also try hard to come up with ways to help the student body: this wasn’t just some wild idea we had off the top of our heads—a lot of planning, fundraising and time went into it.”

After seeing these pictures, my heart is broken because this equipment was in very good shape when I purchased it, in December 2012. What a shame!
– Frank Argenbright.

The arrangement was that the school district would handle the rest of the funding that their generous donations did not cover. This would allow the class to help defray the expensive of the building.
Unfortunately, some specifications turned out to be more expense than were initially expected. One example is bathrooms for the students: where bathrooms seem to be commonplace and inexpensive, the site is not set up with sewer and water. Extending the sewer and water lines can be expensive, and certainly impacted the price of the building.
The question is this: how much is reasonable? Argenbright reports that he originally expected the building to cost $100,000 to $150,000 and to be completed in three months. Even with the unforeseen expenses, Argenbright denies that the new price is fair: which is in the range of $200,000 to $250,000.
He immediately requested the bid specifications—that is, the amount each company would charge for their part in the construction. A year has passed since then and almost a dozen phone calls, and Rutherford would not give the bids to Argenbright. This led the latter to accuse the former.
“Will Rutherford would not provide any bid specs despite 10 phone calls pleading with him to do this over the last two years,” said Argenbright.  We have finally gotten the bid specs, only after this article was in process. I’m frustrated because the equipment I donated has been rusting in a warehouse for two years. I expected the building to be finished sooner, and now there are students who have graduated without being able to use the facility.”
When the school board said that they could not afford over $200,000, Rutherford brought back a new plan that included no offices, no bathrooms, and even lacked air conditioning. Argenbright refuses to accept these mean accommodations for the student body. Meanwhile, the equipment he bought has been placed in storage, without being used.
“The way he has acted is unconscionable after the hard work of so many people to get this effort underway and build a great facility for our students.  I am highly suspicious of his motives.  When someone is not forthcoming, you wonder what they are really up to,” Argenbright said.
To that, Rutherford said, “The District has had the bids: it’s their project. I had tried to send them to Mr. Argenbright, but his email would not accept them. You have to understand that I am not being paid for this: I have done my part in this project until the school board approves one plan or another.” According to Rutherford’s e-mail, Argenbright received the specs on April 30, 2014.
And as for the price, Rutherford said, “Everyone would like a really nice facility, but someone has to pay for it. The district just doesn’t have the money for it.” In summary, Rutherford considers that he has done his due diligence by getting the bids to the school district, which is the organization that secured his services, and that the pricing is based on the construction contractors: not his business practices.
Argenbright disagrees.
“I cannot praise Coach Coe, his fellow coaches, Superintendent Brown and the school board members enough – they have supported this project from day one. We are united in wanting to provide a gym, with world class equipment, for use by all MHS students.  However, my experience with Will Rutherford, his attitude and lack of communication, all indicate he feels he runs the school in relation to any building project.  I care deeply about the people of Madison and I was told MHS got $18 million for a building project. So, my question is: Are you just going to hand this project and this money to a local architectural firm without competitive bids?”
Superintendent Doug Brown refused to pick a side, releasing this statement: “Our resources are unfortunately limited. We are trying to come up with a design that we can fund.” He did, however, reassure the county that they would all continue trying to reach a solution. Said Brown, “We are continuing to work together to try and build a facility that meets our budgetary requirements and the needs of the student athletes.”
Argenbright is not impressed. He closed with this sentiment: “My promise is that I will get another architect involved and we will put this building out to bid to several companies to get the best possible price so that we can build this facility for all the kids in Madison County High School to use and we will get it built within our budget.”
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