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‘Perfect storm’ delays CMS project

GATESVILLE – Rising construction costs coupled with an unforeseen delay in the presentation and approval of Gates County’s 2016-17 financial audit have slowed the Central Middle School project.

In a joint statement, Dr. Barry Williams, Superintendent of Gates County Public Schools, and Ray Felton, chairman of the county’s Board of Education, said this already complex project was made more complex by what they termed as “a perfect storm of obstacles beyond the control of the school board and the county commissioners.”

Well-documented is the fact that the county commissioners, at a meeting in January of last year, approved a measure to borrow $8 million that would pay for a plan to rebuild/renovate Central Middle School. The aging facility, built in 1957, had been the subject of numerous debates over the course of several years its deplorable conditions.

“When the project was approved we used a price of $8 million as being the price for which the project could be completed,” Williams/Felton said in the statement. “Since that time we have seen the economy and construction boom with great optimism on all fronts. This boom and optimism come with increased cost to perform construction because (1) the hurricanes of 2017 brought mass destruction causing the cost of building materials to increase and (2) contractors are overwhelmed with opportunities.”

To that end, the Central Middle School project rose above the projected $8 million.

“When the commissioners approved this project they made it very plain that we were approved to spend $8,000,000 and not one penny more,” the joint statement read. “After seeing our projected cost go above the maximum allotted price we were very fortunate that Dr. Williams secured a $2.5 million dollar grant to be used for new construction. Without that grant we would have been forced to cut things from the project that would have been very unfortunate for Gates County.”

The news came in November of last year about the $2.5 million grant from the North Carolina Needs-Based Public School Capital Fund.

However, that good news was overshadowed by a delay in completing the 2016-17 Gates County budget audit. That caused a delay in allowing the state’s Local Government Commission (LGC) to approve a measure that would allow Gates County local government to move forward in borrowing the $8 million. Part of the LGC’s approval process includes a current audit of the county’s finances.

“The audit of the 2016-17 books has been delayed for reasons beyond the control of anyone in the county,” Williams/Felton noted in their statement. “The original plan on going to the LGC had been that we would go to them before the audit was due, but there simply was not enough time to get the drawings made and approved and ready for bidders prior to the deadline for the new audit.

“The audit has been delayed because the company the county contracted with at the directions of the state had people quit and join another firm after they contracted to perform the audit, leaving the firm with no resources to make the audit happen. At this time we sincerely hope the audit will be completed and the county will be able to go to the LGC for approval of getting a loan for $8 million to cover the construction at their April meeting,” the statement continued.

In the meantime, contrary to the original expectations of the School Board, nothing can be done toward demolishing the old building or doing anything to start construction until all financing arrangements are made and contracts for the total project have been signed.

“Timing of getting bids must assure we will be able to sign a contract with funds available for full construction within 30 days of the bids being opened. These are all state mandates,” the joint statement said.

The statement added, “it is the plan of the School Board that bids documents and specifications be given to prospective bidders 30 days before the appointed date to meet with the LGC with full expectations that the LGC will approve the county borrowing $8,000,000 for this project. Assuming everything happens as planned, we should be able to award contracts within a week or two of receiving approval to borrow the money. This would put us starting demolition in May with construction starting in June with a completion date projected to be 12 months after the start of construction.

We sincerely appreciate your concern for our students and staff and your understanding and support for your school board knowing that we are doing all possible to push this project forward to the successful completion of a project in which all of us can be proud,” the statement concluded.

 

 

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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