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INDEPENDENCE — The opening date of the new Grayson Highlands School in the western end of Grayson County continues to be pushed back — and now, school board members have been told the contract does not have a penalty clause if the contractor goes over the proposed deadline.
Grayson County Administrator Bill Ring, who is also serving as the school system's clerk of the works at the school construction site, updated the board on the progress at the school last Monday.
Ring began with the good news — construction crews should begin to stop missing days because of inclement weather.
The bad news is that the completion date has been pushed back almost another month.
During the school board's meeting in February, Mark Vannoy and Rodney Childress of J.R. Vannoy & Sons and Frank Williams of Pinnacle Architecture fielded questions from board members.
The trio said then that they were about a month behind and that the school's completion date should be Dec. 1.
One month later, that date has been pushed back to Dec. 29.
Board members asked Williams at the February meeting to provide documentation of days missed due to inclement weather. While he did not attend the meeting last Monday, Williams sent those numbers with Ring.
According to information provided, the construction crews lost 15 days in November (of a possible 20 work days), 18 days in December (of a possible 23, not including any holidays, such as Christmas Day and Christmas Eve) and 21 days in January (of a possible 22, not including New Years Day).
Williams also provided the school board with the actual start date of the project — Aug. 13, 2008, when the grading and building permits were issued.
The contract term of 450 calendar days would have taken the estimated completion date to Nov. 5, but based on the numerous lost days (which do not include February and March numbers yet), that date has been pushed back to Dec. 29.
Then came the bombshell, when Ring noted the contract did not include a penalty clause.
“Why is there no penalty clause in the contract?” Board Member Gary Burris asked Superintendent Dr. Elizabeth Thomas.
Thomas said Pinnacle Architecture handled the contract with the school division's attorney, and that it was under their advisement to not include the clause.
This came as news to the board, who were all under the impression — and had been told before by Thomas — that a penalty clause was included in the contract.
“So basically, they can finish whenever they want to,” questioned Board Member Shannon Holdaway.
“That's wrong. I understood it as they had a date,” said Burris.
Ring noted that it was common to not have a penalty clause, and that if it had been included, it would have mandated that a bonus be given if the project was completed early.
“It seems like I remember there being a penalty clause,” said Board Member Hobert Bailey.
Board members were already aggravated by the thought of having to open Grayson Highlands in the middle of the school year, but now they must consider the possibility that it will not be ready to open by Jan. 2, 2010, when the second semester begins.
“At the February meeting, Mr. Vannoy stood [here] and told us that [completion] day was December 1,” Holdaway said. “We're not getting in that school next year. December 29 is where we are now? We're not getting in that school next year.”
Ring added that the contractors are well aware that it is imperative that they try and make up most of the days lost due to bad weather and have the school ready to go by the first of December.
“With your permission, I will continue to put pressure on them in that regard,” Ring told the board. “To us... it's extremely important.”
Holdaway said the board should have a banner made that says, “This school will be opening Jan. 2, 2010,” and hang it at the construction site.
“Five days in November... Five in December... this is not counting holidays... They couldn't work 15 of those 20 working days in November?” Holdaway questioned. “Eighteen of 23 days in December? Twenty-two of 23 in January? One day in January they could work? I find it ludicrous.”
Burris questioned why it was not discussed further to include the clause, noting that if he were having a house built today, he would want exact dates for when it was going to be done.
“Our attorney advised that the contract was a good contract,” Thomas said. “And that it was appropriate for the project.”
She continued to say that contracts involving facilities usually have allowances for bad weather days and that it would have been impossible to get a contractor to agree to build the school without that allowance.
Holdaway added that this project — the first Grayson school built in years — was to be used as a learning experience for future projects.
“This is a steep mountain we are climbing on our first contract,” he said. “Whoever is on this board later needs to learn from this process.”
Holdaway noted that the loan was costing taxpayers $43,000 a month in interest — of which most is solely from the Grayson Highlands project, and some is from the remodeling of and additions to Fries Middle School.
On a positive note, Ring told board members that steel should be up as early as next week. He said the flooring for Building G — which will house the school's gymnasium — had been completed and tested positive to be able to hold the weight of the steel.
He said the other slabs of concrete should begin getting poured as the temperature warms up and things should go quicker if the weather stays warm.
He added that contractors have agreed to work some Saturdays to try and make up the lost days.
The school system and county had budgeted to close Mount Rogers Combined School and Bridle Creek Elementary prior to the 2009-10 school year, thereby saving money.
Now — at best — the schools will be closed mid-year.