Middle school construction faces wrinkle

Published 12:00 am Thursday, November 3, 2005

WINDSOR – After months of effort, it appears the Bertie Board of Education has met its target of $17.3 million to spend on construction of a new central middle school.

However, there is a new wrinkle to have ironed out before the much anticipated project can begin.

As part of a marathon six-hour meeting here Tuesday, board members listened intently as architect Richard Andrews explained in detail what will hopefully be the final alterations to the project, cost reductions that will allow the construction phase to come in at the $17.3 million threshold.

But Andrews went a step further, informing the board of a totally different type of construction that could save an estimated quarter-million dollars.

He suggested a pre-engineered metal frame building n an upscale modular structure for lack of a better description n in lieu of the conventional “brick-and-mortar” construction process.

“These types of structures can be built faster and more economically because there are less parts and pieces to put together,” Andrews said. “We feel we can adapt this to your present plans for the school.”

Andrews said he was not in a position to guarantee what the exact savings would be in this case, but $250,000 was realistic.”

“Of course we would hope to save even more than that,” he noted.

Andrews added that the pre-engineered structure has to follow the same building code requirements as a conventional building.

“There are just less steps involved in this type of construction and less the number of subcontractors,” he said.

The idea wasn’t met with open arms, especially by veteran board member Seaton Fairless.

“We already know what we have, so why do we chance something that’s totally different,” Fairless stressed. “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. We need to move forward on the plan we already have.”

Fairless continued, “We’ve finally got the price down to within what was budgeted. We have a favorable interest rate on the money the county is borrowing for the school. We can’t afford to start again. What if six months from now we’re no further along than we are right now and then the construction price increases? We’d be in a mess.”

Bertie Schools Superintendent Dr. Nettie Collins-Hart also expressed apprehension.

“Even if we saved $250,000 on the pre-engineered design, we’re still $750,000 short of adding back some of the things we really wanted in this school, but had to eliminate because we were over budget,” she noted.

She continued, “I agree with Mr. Fairless. We must move forward with what we have in hand. The cost has already increased by $1 million of what was projected to begin with. I’m afraid if we wait any longer, we’ll have to take the doors down and have an open-air school.”

The board took no action on Andrews’ alternative construction proposal.

The original bid on the project, one complete with 20-plus alternative “add-ons” for the school, came in at $20.9 million. However, counting all the different sources of money earmarked for the project, including a promised $6 million from the Bertie Commissioners in the form of a loan, the bottom line level of spending stood at $18.5 million. Included in that price was $1.2 million in architectural fees.

Working with Andrews and the project’s general contractor, Barnhill Construction, Board of Education members kept chipping away at the price by eliminating most all of the alternatives. By erasing the larger of those “big ticket” items n namely reducing the gym size, eliminating lockers, taking away the athletic fields and changing the type of flooring n the construction price was whittled down to $18.24 million.

But there were more cuts to come in order to hit the $17.3 million target.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Andrews outlined the latest cost reductions. Those highlighted cuts came in the form of using less concrete, reducing the number of parking spaces, eliminating the decorative stone caps, using a different type of windows and doors, using a lesser grade wood on the gym floor, changing the type of ceramic tile in the bathrooms and the use of PVC pipe in non-critical areas rather than cast iron pipe.

Those changes pushed the construction cost down to $17.57 million. When figuring in the “value engineering” portion of the project, the new bottom line is now $17,299,769 n a figure than is a mere $231 under budget.

“I don’t like all these cuts, especially to the athletic fields,” Melinda Eure, board member, said.

“Putting 800 students in one school without having athletic fields is problematic,” Dr. Collins-Hart concluded. “But I guess we’ll have to deal with it.”