NEWLAND — The Avery County Board of Education reconvened for its monthly meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 10, in which board members received an extensive update on the Avery High School construction project.
The meeting began with Superintendent Dr. Dan Brigman reporting to the board that Dr. Jamie Johnson was appointed to the principalship at Cranberry Middle School, and Whitney Vance will assume the leadership role at Riverside Elementary School. Additionally, Rachel Ferguson will become the new administrative assistant to the Superintendent as Stephanie White assumes a role in the Human Resources Department.
A Navy veteran, Brigman also recognized the sacrifice of veterans ahead of Veterans Day, which took place on Wednesday, Nov. 11.
“Tomorrow is Veterans Day, and we are very blessed in this great country to call home and to practice this level of democracy in terms of educating our children throughout the county and throughout the state and this nation. It didn’t happen by accident. It took a lot of sacrifice from a lot of people who have committed time, energy and who also paid the ultimate sacrifice to make sure we are guaranteed our freedoms that we celebrate in recognizing our veterans,” Brigman said.
The school system has changed Wednesday, Nov. 25, to an optional teacher workday instead of an optional remote learning day. Students will be off for the Thanksgiving holiday Thursday and Friday, Nov. 26 and 27. The next BOE meeting will be held on Tuesday, Dec. 8, and Christmas break will begin on Wednesday, Dec. 18, which will be an early dismissal date.
The board then recognized recent AHS graduate Kris Calhoun for his achievement in receiving the Distinguished Badge in the Civilian Marksmanship Program. Calhoun was accompanied by Sergeant Major Jason Coleman and Major Randel Matney.
The board reiterated the policy that sets the rule for attendance on remote instruction days. As various schools and classes within the Avery system have transitioned to remote learning due to cases of COVID-19 arising in the schools. the system has experienced some hiccups related to attendance while students learn online. According to the policy, students are counted present on remote learning days by completing their daily assignments either online or offline or by having a daily check-in through two-way communication with the homeroom advisory teachers for students K-8 or the course teacher for all other grade levels.
“(Two-way communication) could be phone communication, email, text or Zoom. It has to be acknowledged on both ends,” Brigman said.
Nelson Hall of Wolf Trail Engineering gave a progress report on the Crossnore Elementary roof replacement project. The contract for the project is set for 120 days, which began on August 3 and is set to expire upon project completion on December 31. Hall made a change order request related to the extension of time requested for the project to be completed. The request, which adds no additional costs, relates in part to Principal Matthew Bentley wanting green trim on the roof, among other changes. The request was approved.
To date, approximately 40 percent of the new roof panels have been installed, and the construction waterproofing membrane has been put in place since the old roof has been completely removed. A construction crew was changed out due to the crew not making the progress that was expected. That project has since moved forward at a more efficient pace.
Rob Johnson of Boomerang Design gave an update on the AHS construction project. Johnson discussed the possibility of demolishing the 200 block building of the high school as part of the project. Brigman recommended that the project move forward as previously presented and currently stipulated in the contract. Brigman also brought up concerns about the roof completion date being moved to January 21, 2021, after initially being set for a late November completion.
“I recommend that we maintain the scope of the project as presented and previously approved by contract and not allow any further delays or changes to this project, because we need to get it done,” Brigman said.
Johnson agreed, explaining that the construction schedule he had received from the contractor was inefficient. He then requested that school officials meet with Branch Builds officials to discuss the dates.
“We were sick to our gut, too, when we saw those dates,” Johnson said.
Mike Love, project consultant/Superintendent for Branch Builds, explained that the construction crews are actually on schedule to put the roof on the school by December 8, but because of errors in the schedule, the date is not reflected.
“It’s not that everything is actually pushed, it’s just that we have errors in our schedule with our successors and predecessors for our schedule,” Love said.
Board member Kathey Aldridge asked why the board needed to approved a change order related to the construction of the parking lot and driveway in front of the new building in order to not halt the progress of the project.
“Nothing has been done (with that part of the project). So how are we going to stop the building and movement from going on, and yet nothing has happened in that area?” Aldridge asked.
Love said that the contractor’s crew has had several cases of the virus, and the contractor will be onsite the following week. The contractor was not onsite during the week of the meeting.
“So the reason the driveway has not been done is because the (grading subcontractor) has not showed up?” Pat Edwards confirmed.
Love said that the subcontractor had been given 72 hours notice of default and should be onsite by Monday. He added that he has connections to another subcontractor out of Charlotte that he can bring onsite if needed.
In regard to the window frames, Brigman said he was told in the joint meeting back in September that the window frames would be ordered around that time, but the frames have yet to be measured.
“I’m at a loss. I don’t understand. It’s winter. How are you going to lock up that building to keep the cold out?” Brigman asked.
Love said that there are provisions in the contract for temporary seals to go in the frames to keep the building warm and water-resistant if the windows are not in.
“It seems like we come to the agreements just long enough to get the meeting done, then it sits there. I know there are a lot of pieces to the puzzle, a lot of moving parts like graders not showing up that you don’t have a lot of control over. It just seems like there’s (a lot of things we’re behind on). That’s just where we’re getting a little frustrated and disappointed. We want to see a roof on the building. Living in Avery County, we know what we’re in for this winter,” Board Chairman John Greene said.
Love responded by saying that roofing had actually begun the day of the meeting, with decking on the side closest to the football field and gym beginning that day.
“We’re starting to wrap ourselves around to the center,” Love said.
Love reiterated that the roof will be completed by December 8 before adding that the priority for Branch Builds is to get under roof and dried-in, then complete the project in the next 100 days.
The board will likely have a joint meeting with the Avery County Board of Commissioners at the high school construction site on or before the next BOE meeting on December 8.
The board had tabled a change order at the last meeting, which Finance Officer Jeffery Jaynes re-presented to the board. The order extends the contractor’s contract by 155 days. Jaynes said that half of the 77 days mentioned in the order result from the time taken to complete the soil nailing, which caused other delays in the project.
“They originally asked for twice that number, and I jumped stumps over that,” Jaynes said. “We thoroughly questioned them on soil nailing days. We asked for specifics documentation, and the one thing that was revolted was that the project was never initially intended for them to dig out that entire area where the steps (at the front of the school) were.”
The rest of the delays come through August, including 34 weather days beyond what was allowed in the contract. Only seven days were requested due to COVID-19, along with 14 days to reroute sewer lines, since as-built plans that were on file did not match where the lines actually were in the ground.
The order was initially tabled due to the request not being detailed enough for the school system. The board ultimately approved the change order, which pushes the contractually obligated project completion date to January 31. According to Jaynes, the contract includes punitive damages for each day that the contractor is late, and the BOE has the right to sanction them a certain dollar amount. The change order approval also lessens the chance that the architect would be able to charge the school system.
“What (the change order does) is sets the date that they contractually should be completed and then from that date to the date that they are substantially completed is the length of the time that you have to say, ‘Well, you didn’t fulfill your contract, we’re charging you back,’” Jaynes said.
Lastly, Jaynes updated the board on several capital projects. The air conditioning/heating units in the information technology department have been completed. Playground equipment has been tracked down to be installed at the elementary schools. Cloud/vape detectors will be installed in the schools, which will alert tech services if someone is vaping in the building. The board approved a budget amendment to include the costs of the Crossnore roof project in the capital outlay budget.