12/11/10 — School construction likely to begin soon

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School construction likely to begin soon

By Steve Herring
Published in News on December 11, 2010 11:20 PM

It likely will be early next year before Wayne County commissioners tour two public schools scheduled to undergo major makeovers, county officials said last week. The projects are expected to be paid for by selling $15 million in federal Qualified School Construction Bonds.

During a Tuesday morning discussion of the bonds, commissioners said they wanted to visit the schools and review the renovation plans. Commissioners at first appeared ready to delay starting the necessary paperwork to sell the bonds, but near the end of their meeting they decided to proceed.

Some commissioners seemed to have qualms about starting the paperwork, indicating that they were not familiar with changes they said had been made to the construction plans. However, Nan Barwick, the school system's assistant superintendent for fiscal services, said Friday that although some changes have been discussed, none have been made.

The county hopes to use the bonds for new construction at Eastern Wayne and Norwayne middle schools. Both projects carry estimated $6.6 million price tags.

County Manager Lee Smith Friday said he would have a better handle on a possible timeline for the bonds next week, after he speaks with Davenport and Co., the county's financial consultant.

"I think the process will move fairly quickly because we have already been basically approved for $15 million," Ms. Barwick said. "That money is held for Wayne County schools.

"I am thinking that when we come back from the holidays we are really going to have to kick into gear. We have got to get mobile units in place for the children to go to when we start demolishing the buildings. It takes sometimes four to five months to get the order placed and get those in and set up. We are anticipating possibly summertime really getting started with some of these projects."

Smith assured commissioners that their decision to proceed was just to get the paperwork started.

"We now have to make actual application to Department of Public Instruction," Smith said Friday. "We will still have to go through the North Carolina Local Government Commission for approvals which will include resolutions and hearings by the county commissioners in early 2011.

"The Local Government Commission will require actual bid documents, which means this process will take at least six months. The bonds have to be sold before December of 2011 or the bond is forfeited. This bond will save the county over $750,000 in interest over 17 years or a total of over $12,750,000."

The county would use state lottery proceeds to pay the principal and local funds for the interest. The federal government would reimburse the county at the end of each year, Smith said, making the bonds interest-free.

Ms. Barwick said she is trying to schedule a meeting with the architect for the projects, but that it probably will take place after the first of the year.

The meeting with commissioners would be to revisit the plan and refresh everybody's memories since it has been several years since the two projects have been looked at, she said.

"The timeline for the bond is short at this point," she said. "The bonds have to be sold by the end of December (2011). Then we have a three-year period to spend and complete the project. If we don't go through the process we lose access to it."

Ms. Barwick said she has spoken with the architect who was "really confident" with the county's numbers.

"Right then, the bids (on other projects) were coming in lower than what we had done at Brogden, Greenwood and Mount Olive," she said. "Hopefully, that is true. I know contractors are eager to work and that is to our benefit. The hope is, if they can actually get started in the summer, the goal would be having the kids in the new facility next school year, but definitely by Christmas, so a year to a year and a half."

At their meeting Tuesday, several commissioners voiced concerns about flooding issues at Norwayne.

Water runoff will be a "big piece" of the project there, Ms. Barwick said.

"That is taken into consideration in the renovation, to take care of runoff and try to safeguard to keep it from running into the building," she said. "We do have issues with that. Naturally, it is worse with heavy rains. Norwayne does sit in a fishbowl. There are hills all around it."

The project includes air conditioning the gym and the demolition of a classroom building to be replaced by a new two-story building.

"Then there was a building they were just going to do some retrofitting for," she said. "Well, that building is just as old as the one that we are demolishing."

There has been "conversation" about possibly demolishing the second building as well and replacing it with a new one, Ms. Barwick said.

"We are not saying that is even going to be feasible," she said. "Instead of putting a pretty face on it, let's make it more useable. We have not made any official decision on that. Dr. (Steve) Taylor and I met with the architect several weeks ago to try and kind of get ourselves more familiar with what had been proposed initially because he and I were not that involved in the actual plan. Naturally, there are some other things that we would like to see out there, money allowing. If we go that route they would be added in as alternates.

"I am not saying that we are going to do that, but we might throw that option in there. That way if the bids come in low enough, and if we can afford it, we would like to do that (second building). That has not been decided yet because we have not even pulled the board together to make that decision."

The $6.6 million does not include a second new building.

"That is why if we bid it, we will bid it as an alternate. Then depending on how the bids came in, if that was something even feasible," she said.

The Eastern Wayne project also includes demolition and construction of a two-story building for classrooms and an administration area. Other work includes air conditioning for the kitchen and gym.

Students would be housed in the new mobile units while construction is under way. It was originally thought that the units would be ordered, placed at one school and then moved to the next, Ms. Barwick said. But with both projects going on at the same time, more units would have to be ordered.

It has yet to be decided whether the mobile units will be purchased or rented, she said. If they are bought, it is possible that once construction is finished, the new units would be used to replace ones in use at other schools.