The Cove School District is one step closer to beginning construction of a new food service building.

The Cove School Board voted Tuesday to approve design plans for a 5,120 square-foot cafeteria building. The board also voted to begin accepting bids for the building project pending approval of the plans by Union County.

Should Union County approve the plans, the school district will likely accept bids for construction for a 21-day period. If a bid is then awarded by the school district to a contractor, construction would likely start in July, said Cove School District Superintendent Earl Pettit.

“It is not likely, but the building could be finished by Christmas,’’ Pettit said.

The superintendent stressed, though, there are many variables which could slow or prevent the building work from ever starting. Pettit said if no acceptable bids are received, the school board could decide to halt the project completely.

The building, which would be about 30 feet east of Cove Elementary School, would cost between $1.5 and $1.8 million, Pettit said.

Contractors will be expected to submit two bids — one with higher cost materials for the roof and siding and one with lower cost materials for both. The higher-cost items will be steel for the roof and brick for the exterior, and the lower priced products will be a synthetic roofing material and veneer siding.

Pettit said the more expensive material will last longer.

“We want it to be durable and have longevity,’’ the superintendent said.

The lower-cost items might be used, though, if bids for construction of a building with a steel roof and brick siding come in too high, Pettit said.

Board member Jamie Dickenson said she would be leery of using lower-quality materials to construct the building.

“I don’t want to be in a position in which we will have more costs in a few years (if lower grade materials break down),” Dickenson said.

The construction of the building will be paid for with money the school district has been setting aside for capital projects for a number of years. Pettit told The Observer earlier this year that the school district has been able to build up the funding needed for this construction work by operating efficiently.

Pettit said on Tuesday the school district will not take on any debt to during construction.

“We have no debt and we have no plans to take on any debt,” Pettit said.

The food service building will replace the school district’s present cafeteria and kitchen at Cove Elementary School. Pettit said the present cafeteria is not big enough for a school district like Cove, which has about 300 students. The cafeteria has capacity of just 40 students, which means that students from multiple grades are not able to eat in the cafeteria at once.

This would represent the Cove School District’s third construction project in the past 25 years. Two additional high school classrooms were built in about 10 years ago and a music room was constructed in the early 1990s.

See complete story in Wednesday's Observer