School project halted

Published 4:42 pm Friday, August 18, 2023

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JACKSON – The Northampton County Board of Education opted to terminate a contract with a local construction business and seek reimbursement during their regular meeting on Aug. 14.

In August 2022, the board approved a contract for design build services to construct a building to house more classrooms at Gaston STEM Leadership Academy. That contract was with Mason Builders, located in Gaston.

Gaston STEM Leadership Academy serves elementary and middle grades, but some of the youngest enrolled students attend class at the nearby Squire Elementary School campus. The goal of the proposed project was to construct six early childhood classrooms to house Pre-K and Kindergarten classes on Gaston STEM’s campus.

At the time of the contract approval last year, the district had only received two responses to their Request for Qualifications. The other company’s proposal to construct mobile units did not meet the project’s qualifications, so Mason Builders was selected.

The district’s funding source for the project comes from the federal ESSER (Elementary Secondary School Emergency Relief) funds with an estimated cost of $997,761.

Following that approval last August, the company discovered that the classrooms needed to be larger than planned in order to meet North Carolina Department of Public Instruction (NCDPI) requirements. Because of that necessary change, the Board approved an updated contract in December 2022 with a new estimated cost of $1.6 million and new completion date of July 2023.

“Nearly a year later, there’s no evidence of any meaningful progress having taken place on the project,” explained Board Attorney Rod Malone as he presented the information to the board at the Aug. 14 meeting. “As of today, they have not submitted acceptable plans to DPI to construct the facility.”

Malone stated the recommendation was to terminate the contract and seek reimbursement for any money that had been previously paid for the project.

Board member Clinton Williams asked what the process has been before arriving at this point.

Malone explained that the board previously authorized the superintendent to send a notification letter to the company that the board may move towards terminating the contract if they didn’t submit the plans. That letter was sent in June.

The company’s response in late July was incomplete plans that lacked electric and mechanical components, according to Malone. And as of Aug. 14, he said it appeared that the documents still had not been finalized and sent to NCDPI.

“This is a problem,” said board member Rhonda Taylor, expressing disapproval. “Because we fought for our children to get this building, and now we don’t have a building for our children to go into.”

Dr. Marjorie Edwards motioned to approve the recommendation to terminate the contract and seek reimbursement, and Barbara Stephenson provided the second. The vote passed unanimously in favor.