GCPS project faces increased cost

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 1, 2007

GATESVILLE – The Gates County Public Schools’ $6.5 million capital construction project has yet to begin.

With the news shared by the project’s construction managers to the Board of Education last Monday night, major decisions must be made before ground breaks on the project.

Originally budgeted at $6.5 million and in the discussion stages for 18 months, the project, in its designed state, will now cost the county $7.506 million.

Mark Walker, Executive Vice President of Ellis-Walker Builders in Fayetteville, addressed the board and outlined costs for each of the three individual items that comprise the entire construction project.

Ellis-Walker Builders is the initial company involved in bidding for the project, but has not contracted with the board.

Joe Walker, President of the company and Mark Walker’s father, also attended last week’s meeting.

Mark Walker indicated that the new gymnasium would cost $4.295 million; the additions at Buckland Elementary were projected at $1.275 million and the additions to Cooper Elementary would come with a $1.935 million price tag.

The total amount of the project seemed to catch the members of the board by surprise.

“I am totally disappointed, disgusted and outdone in finding out this late in the process (that the project would cost $1 million more than budgeted),” said Board Chairman Dale Saunders. “Things aren’t going well, coming in over what we have. They (Ellis-Walker) had problems with personnel with a gentleman that said he could do it.”

Early in the process, the board was given costs that fit within the budget from a former employee of Ellis-Walker.

In presenting the new costs to the board, Mark Walker indicated that the Gates County High School gymnasium is “killing the figures.” The site preparation and grading of the gym would cost $407,000 or $207,000 over budget; the mechanical aspects of the building would cost $620,000 ($289,000 over budget) and the masonry would cost $115,000 more than the building budget allows.

The board also contemplated placing the gym in a different location than originally called for in the plans. This change would require that the high school football field be relocated. The relocation would cost an additional $236,000. The rational for moving the gym is to prevent additional site work to fill in a ravine that the gym would be built upon.

At the request of Richard Andrews, the architect of the project, Mark Walker offered a list of ideas to reduce the costs. The list consisted of aesthetic changes to such things as bathrooms, building eaves and quality of sheetrock. Those changes and ideas equaled a savings of $266,200 from the $7.5 million total. Walker also indicated that he had cut his company’s project management fees to “almost nothing.”

In response to the lists of changes offered by Walker, board member Paulette Wester asked if these changes would “make the building unsafe for kids or would the building meet codes.”

“We could never offer you anything unsafe. To the human eye, these changes would not be noticeable” responded Walker.

After the Walkers concluded their presentation and exited from the meeting room, Andrews informed the board that he “has three other entities interested in bidding on this project.”

As the meeting

concluded, the board decided to weigh the options of searching for another construction management company or make changes to the current plan. In the meantime, it appears that all Gates County High School home football games this fall would be able to be played on campus.