Grayson school behind schedule

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By Ben Bomberger, Reporter

INDEPENDENCE — Grading is nearly complete, a source of water has tentatively been agreed upon and rebar is on the ground at the site of the new Grayson Highlands School in the Volney community of Grayson.

Grayson Schools' Director of Personnel Chad Newman updated the school board at its regular meeting Oct. 13 and said he expected the concrete building pad to be complete in the near future.

“I was told we were a month behind,” said Board Member Shannon Holdaway.

“We will have a better idea once we get the pad poured and the building under a roof,” said Newman. “Once we get that, we can more accurately estimate where we will stand in August 2009.”

The school system had hoped to have the new school open for the 2009-10 school year, but the project has fallen behind schedule.

Grayson Schools' Superintendent Dr. Elizabeth Thomas noted that the division had hoped to be further along at this point in the year.

“The county administrator and board of supervisors continue to work on getting water from Troutdale,” said Newman. “The response — according to [County Administrator] Bill Ring — has been overall positive.”

The plans would extend the town of Troutdale's water system 2.2 miles out to the new school, along with an additional eight-tenths of a mile to allow other potential customers the opportunity to hook-up.

Holdaway asked if there was a “drop-dead” date set as to when work needed to begin on the water lines before it was too late to go with the alternative and put wells on site.

“Not at this point,” said Newman. “It could be done at the end of the project. Once they get into the job... it'll be fairly quickly.”

Asked if the extension on the water system was included in the already overspent budget for the new school, Newman said no.

“We are looking for grant funding,” he told the board. “The county will pay the rest.”

In August, Ring provided the Grayson supervisors with estimated costs for both options — digging wells or running water from Troutdale.

If the county opts to go with a private well, costs look to be around $600,000. The new water system looks to cost $878,000, but provides further options for funding.

Ring said Mount Rogers Planning District Commission has offered to pay for the preliminary engineering report and state representatives have expressed that $112,000 could potentially come in state money.

Funding for the new water system would also be a guarantee. Although Ring didn’t disclose the funding agency, he said he had one ready to go that was in favor of funding the entire project, or whatever the county needed.

“They are willing to fund it at 2.75 percent interest rate,” said Ring. “That’s a very attractive rate.”

Ring strongly suggested pursuing the new water system.

Along with the extra funding, the new water system would better serve the western end of the county. Ring said there was not only potential for new customers to hook up along the water line, but that it also provided fire protection for the community — something residents currently don’t have.

“It is also part of our long-term plan to run water lines along U.S. 58, from Galax to the western end of the county,” he said.

Supervisors approved having Ring pursue a preliminary engineering report.

Another update on the new school regarded turning lanes.

“We have received plans from engineers to send for review to VDOT,” Newman said.

Already nearly $2 million overspent, the school system has yet to pay additional costs such as asphalt needed to create those turning lanes, driveways and parking lots.

Architects advised the school system to seek alternate bids for those projects.

The $8 million bid awarded in July also does not include putting in the water and/or sewer service.

Thomas told The Gazette that despite the minor delays, the original plan to have the school open by August 2009 is not completely out of the question.

Noting that weather is the deciding factor, Thomas said if the contractors can get the foundation finished and the walls and roofs up by winter, crews can work more easily and longer hours through the colder parts of the year and have the building ready by the 2009-10 school year.

If Grayson approaches the start of the next school year and needs a couple more weeks to finish the building, the school board can consider pushing back the anticipated opening day to allow additional time.

Thomas said the worst-case scenario would be opening the new school halfway through the year — most likely during the winter break between the first and second semesters.

Thomas said that could create problems with leaving one school in December and going to another in January — not to mention the different bus routes students, parents and drivers would face.

Grayson County could be in a pinch if the school does not open on time. The board of supervisors already budgeted for the closings of both Bridle Creek Elementary and Mount Rogers Combined School after the upcoming school year ends, with the anticipated savings from both schools — $143,000 each — helping to pay back the money borrowed to build the new school.

The contract with Vannoy mandates that Grayson Highlands School will be built in a maximum of 450 days, with a penalty clause for each day the contractors go past that date.

On a side note, Newman also updated the board on progress for the remodeling of Fries Middle School.

“The architects have provided us a full set of plans,” he said.

A meeting with the school facilities committee is expected to review the plans and be able to send out bids within 30 days.

The board of supervisors approved allowing the school board to apply for the $7.5 million state literary loan to provide long-term funding for the project — but members have worried that the school system will have to dip into the money allotted for Fries to pay the bills on the first school.

Thomas noted during the school board meeting that, while the Volney school has come in higher than expected, architects are assuring the system that Fries will come in “significantly less.”

“But, we won't know that until we send out bids,” she said.

Supervisors expressed their concern at their regular meeting Oct. 9 after approving the school to apply for the new funding.

“I just don't want us to be blindsided by this one, too,” said Supervisor Joe Vaughan.

Supervisor Chris Morton asked if it was too late to have all the figures checked again. He added that if the figures were already this far off for the new school in Volney, it would cause all numbers to be off throughout the entire long-range facility upgrade plan.

Supervisor Larry Bartlett worried that after approving the application that the school board could begin to draw on those funds if needed for the new school being built.

Ring noted that the money had already been obtained through temporary funding and that the county was already responsible for the more than $16 million already borrowed.

“This funding is simply a lower-interest rate and long-term,” he said.

Supervisor Chairman Mike Maynard worried that things were already out of hand for the first phase of the long-range plan.

“We won't know the magnitude until we see bids for Fries Middle,” he said. “We've lost control of this building project.”

Bartlett added that he was not opposed to allowing the school board to apply for the money, but that the board needed to get with the supervisors prior to accepting any bids on projects.

“I'm encouraging our board to look at what this is going to cost the taxpayers,” he said. “If they can't afford it... we need to put the brakes on it now.”

In addition, the supervisors requested Ring to inform the school board that they were not to accept any bids prior to meeting with the supervisors.

“We can set up a meeting with the school board in December,” said Maynard. “Assuming we'll have bids on Fries Middle, we can know where we are at. But we need to make sure the bid is not accepted before we have a chance to plug in some numbers... I'm not saying we won't go forward [with the project], but we just need to see.”

Ring agreed saying it was part of the supervisors administrative duties to make sure funding was available before accepting a bid.