HVAC cost, timing cause concern in Carroll

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By Christopher Brooke, Reporter

HILLSVILLE  — While latest bids for the heating and air conditioning replacement at Carroll County High School came in about $1 million higher than before, the length of time to replace the mechanical system caused even more concern for educators.
Carroll Public Schools officials consider the need for updates to the heating and air a given, since the system has been operating ever since the facility was built in the 1960s.
County officials recently announced they can get a $5 million community facilities loan from Rural Development for the HVAC work, along with a connection to the natural gas line and a new science and technology lab. This possibility spurred a concerted effort by the Carroll supervisors, schools officials and the Industrial Development Authority.

Their goal involved getting as much of the updates done over the summer as possible.
But when architect Randy Baker opened the three construction bids in front of a gathering of contractors and educators, each document put the time for completion at more than 200 days.
The apparent low bidder — New Atlantic, which already served as a contractor on the Carroll High schools phase III construction project — stipulated the least amount of days for construction at 210. The other two bids specified 228 and 220 days.
Old pipes to circulate water in the mechanical system will have to come down and a four-pipe system will go back in its place above the ceiling tiles.
New Atlantic’s bid fell just below $4.6 million. Baker estimated these submissions were about $1 million higher than when the heating and air conditioning system was bid out the first time.
The mechanical prices were in the $3.6 million range and the required electrical work about $300,000, the architect said.
So the question for schools officials became what needs to happen to get the high school prepared for colder temperatures this fall and winter.
Seven months to complete the project was Superintendent Strader Blankenship’s concern.
“If the days aren’t negotiable, then we’re done with the conversation,” he said. “An unheated building is not going to work.”
All contractors promised to focus construction in order to have the heat on by the end of October, Baker said.
“We’re going to have some interesting days in October,” Blankenship said.
It appeared to the gathered officials that these bids — plus the estimates for the natural gas connection, the lab and the related non-construction costs — would push this round of work up to $5.2 million, not including the necessary contingency.
Contractors will make sure the cafeteria gets done first, so they can proceed with meals service when schools reopen this fall.
The timing could have been a lot better, Blankenship told The Gazette afterwards.
This means the distracting construction will still be going on during fall Standards of Learning tests, and could extend all the way to February.
“It’s worrisome for test scores, safety,” he said. “It’s a long time to have a building in construction.”
The IDA met with Dennis Cole on Wednesday and gave its blessing to going forward with the HVAC project, after the clerk of the works explained the resolutions the members needed to approve.
The three bids came in close to others in terms of costs, so that made the officials feel confident that the contractors understood what was involved in order to come up with the prices, Cole told the IDA.
“It was higher than we anticipated,” he said. “In this project cost, we had for construction $4,225,000 total for all three projects, so right now we’re at $4.6. Our total loan value is $5 million.”
It’s not over budget right now, and officials won’t know what’s needed for the lab and the natural gas line until those construction bids come in.
Cole has spoken further with Rural Development officials about the funding situation. Federal officials say if the total project comes in over $5 million, they can amend the loan to cover additional costs.
“So we’re good — they’ll help us out,” Cole said.
Later, Cole told the authority members that the contractor know how important it is to get all the demolition done before classes begin in August. Then, the contractors will work in the evenings.
“So that when the kids do come back to school, they won’t be involved in any of this trash laying around.. we’re asking the contractor to work from 4 o’clock to 12 o’clock.”
That’s one of the reasons that prices came in higher, Cole believes. “If you’re like me, I like to be home during those hours, not on the job site.”
That probably caused something of a premium, but it’s not reasonable to wait a year to fix the HVAC, because too many things could go wrong.
The Carroll School Board was to meet Thursday morning to approve its part on the HVAC work.