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Snags imminent in this size project

The headlines were as big as the smiles. The check was bigger than both.

But did anyone know why they should smile about that check?

During a December 2002 interview, Mayor Austin Caldwell dubbed the receipt of $1.25 million as the biggest story of the year for the city of Demopolis. And no one argued. The money, granted by the Delta Regional Authority, would buy most of the concrete for a new “higher education center” in Demopolis.

Like most news announcements involving government and money, specifics of that higher education center were shady, at best. Some said the school — or college, or university — would serve as a vocational facility, training the employed and preparing the unemployed to later be trained. Others had dreams of a true-to-life college, sitting right there along the 17th hole of the city’s public golf course.

Of course none of the specifics really mattered 15 months ago. Those who held the biggest fork on the education dinner plate — the city of Demopolis and Alabama Southern Community College — had more pressing concerns.

First, an architect had to draw the floor plans of this center. (Picking the architect didn’t exactly sail through the Demopolis City Council agenda.)

Next, bids had to be published and distributed to select the contractors who would ultimately construct the biggest story of 2002.

Then, all of a sudden, the money didn’t come from the Delta Regional Authority, prompting Caldwell to stop work on the project until a check cleared the bank. Caldwell made the decision in late January 2003. A month later, the city was told it had access to the $1.25 million and the architects officially began work.

Since that work began, other snags have reared their ugly heads. This week, RAC Construction — a Livingston company that won the bid to build the higher education center — sent only a skeleton crew to the site. Since December, RAC has poured foundations and prepared to raise the walls on the higher education center. Since December, RAC hasn’t received a paycheck.

According to Demopolis city officials, the process for actually depositing grant money involves nine steps — none of which can be done in quick fashion.

The point? Building the road to educational bliss in Demopolis hasn’t been paved with simple intentions. Fortunately — for this city’s sake — those intending to see the project to completion haven’t exited the road.