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AES project delayed

WINTON – While delays are expected in a few of the pre-construction aspects of the new Ahoskie Elementary School (AES) project, School Superintendent Dr. William Wright feels positive that the $14.8 million facility will open as planned in January 2021.

Wright said the delays are tied in with the Hertford County School Board’s intention to again apply for a School Based Capital Needs Grant from the state.

“Tom Hughes, the architect we have under contract for this project, asked for the delay as the timing of some of our pre-construction work on the new school coincides with the possible awarding of the state grant,” Wright told the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald in a telephone interview on Thursday.

Wright confirmed that the local school board is committed to asking for a $15 million grant, just as they did last year. That previous grant request was denied.

“You can’t receive the money unless you apply for it,” Wright stressed. “So we’re applying for the full $15 million once again. We will hopefully learn something by August or September as to whether or not our application for the funding is approved.”

The Superintendent added that while he and the local school board are appreciative of the support shown by the Hertford County Commissioners in their commitment of $14.8 million in taxpayer money, he said the AES project can be broader if the state grant is received.

“You recall that one of the options for the new school included an auditorium,” Wright noted. “While that option was not favored by the majority of the commissioners, it could possibly be looked at again should we receive the state grant. A portion of that $15 million could also be applied to the funding already committed by the commissioners. That could lower the amount the county is contributing, which will lower their debt service payments.”

The “auditorium option” plan submitted by the architect, and eventually turned down by the commissioners, added roughly $2 million to the overall cost.

The latest delays, mentioned during a recent meeting of the Hertford County Board of Commissioners, start with the submission of construction documents. That was scheduled to occur earlier this week (Feb. 25) but has been pushed back to May 1.

That caused a domino affect, moving the receipt of all necessary permits and issuing the construction documents for bids from March 25 to June 5; awarding the construction bid from April 25 to July 24; gaining LGC (Local Government Commission) approval from June 4 to Sept. 2; and the notice to proceed with the project from July to October.

Those bids, according to the new timeline, will be held for a period of 90 days in hopes of a favorable announcement of Hertford County gaining the Capital Needs Grant.

“With or without the grant, we still feel good about the actual construction timeline, which is 12-to-14 months. We still plan to open the new school in January 2021,” Dr. Wright remarked.

The Hertford County Commissioners were made aware of the project delay at their regularly scheduled meeting on Feb. 18.

“To be clear, this delay is not ours,” stated Commission Chairman Ronald Gatling at that meeting. “Previously it appeared that we were the hold-up, and it’s clear now that we’re not the hold-up as we aren’t doing this schedule (revised timeline).”

At a meeting in late June of last year, the Hertford County Board of Commissioners approved one of the three options for the new school – a 57,150 square-foot facility across the street from the current Ahoskie Elementary School. The latter has served students since 1959 and has been a topic of serious discussion since 2011 to replace the aging facility.

The chosen option has room for 400 students (600 core) with 14 classrooms, media center, cafeteria/kitchen, a gym (with a platform stage / no bleachers) and no auditorium. Space will be left vacant to possibly add four classrooms.

The new school’s main entrance will be on First Street (NC 561), adjacent to the Town of Ahoskie Cemetery.

In October, the Commissioners voted unanimously to earmark $14.8 million in revenue to fund the project. Of that amount, $11.3 million is projected to come by way of a bank loan or through the sale of limited obligation bonds.

The remaining $3.5 million was established through an earlier action approved by the Commissioners by combining $2.4 million of the county’s proceeds from the North Carolina Lottery with moving $1.1 million from appropriated fund balance into the School Capital Reserve Fund.

Other estimated costs to round out the projected $14.8 million total include $910,000 in architectural fees, $800,000 for site development, $500,000 for fixtures, furniture and equipment, $260,000 in contingency funding, $100,000 in administrative costs, and $75,000 for testing/geographical surveying.

There were some minor changes made to the overall plan earlier this year. The most noteworthy change was asking the project’s architect to go back and study the possibility of designing a service road between Bearfield Primary School and Roanoke-Chowan Community Health Center and have the buses enter/exit the new AES from Hertford County High School Road. The original plan carried that bus traffic through a residential neighborhood on Ruth Avenue.

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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