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New school won't be ready by fall

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By Ben Bomberger, Reporter

INDEPENDENCE — Despite earlier hopes that the Grayson Highlands School being built in the Western end of Grayson County would be complete prior to the start of the 2009-10 school year, contractors are now saying it will be December at the earliest.

Mark Vannoy and Rodney Childress of J.R. Vannoy and Sons and Frank Williams of Pinnacle Architecture fielded questions from the Grayson School Board during its regular meeting Monday night.

Board Member Shannon Holdaway wasted no time asking the tough questions and wanted to know the exact date construction began.

None of the three could provide the exact date at the meeting, but said they would look it up and send it to Holdaway.

The 450-day contract was awarded last June, but that date does not count as the first official day. A penalty clause is included in the contract that will cost the contractors money for each day they go over the deadline.

Holdaway then asked for the school’s projected completion date.

“December 1st,” said Vannoy. “That’s when we will be ready for final inspection.”

He added that within two weeks of final inspection, the building should be ready for occupancy.

The news comes at perhaps the worst possible time for the school system, which is already facing a $1.2 million cut in state funding. The system had budgeted for the closure of Mount Rogers Combined School and Bridle Creek Elementary prior to the 2009-10 school year, expecting the new Grayson Highlands School would be finished.

Now, with the delay, both schools will have to remain open, costing the school system hundreds of thousands of dollars. Earlier reports showed the county would save around $143,000 with each school closure.

The original completion date in the contract is October.

“So we’re a month behind,” said Board Member Gary Burris.

Holdaway noted that the last time Williams approached the board — at the December 2008 meeting — he said the project was about 30 days behind, but expected workers would make up the time once the weather broke.

“I’d say we are about 45 days behind now,” Williams told the board Monday night. “I think the original date was around October 10th or 12th… The weather has pushed it back.”

While the board members said they understood the contractors could not control the weather, Holdaway asked what process was used to determine if it was a good day to work.

Vannoy said the contractors need a temperature of 40 degrees and rising and the ground to be thawed in order to begin pouring concrete for the floor slabs.

The company is scheduled to being pouring the slab that will house the gymnasium on either Thursday or Friday — depending on weather.

Once the flooring is complete, the steel can be placed and the building should come together quickly, Williams told the board.

Holdaway then asked what constituted as a “work day.”

Vannoy said a typical work day was 7:30 a.m. until 4 p.m. and that the company would work some Saturdays to try and catch up.

“Our goal is to be done by December 1,” he said. “Whatever it takes, that’s our goal.”

Vannoy added that crews would not be on site seven days a week, and not every Saturday.

The problem now is that the crews have little work to do until the concrete flooring is poured and settled.

Williams added that the crews used weather reports to determine if a day is acceptable to work, or if the contractor should simply write it off.

“We’ve been getting a lot of work done on days [weather reports] said work couldn’t be done,” he said.

Holdaway said he felt that, in his numerous trips past the site, there were days crews could have been working, but weren’t. “Every day we are borrowing money costs the taxpayers more. My request is anything you guys can do… we need that… that’s taxpayer money.”

Vannoy added that every day the crews didn’t work on site was costing the company money, as well. Once the flooring is complete, there will be more work to do and things should pick up.

Regarding the idea that the school could have been completed by this August, Vannoy said he never committed to that.

“When we had the groundbreaking [back in July 2008], I was asked that and I said ‘no-way,’” he said. “We will do everything in our power to complete it as soon as possible.”

Vannoy may not have committed to the August 2009 completion date, but at the December meeting Williams seemed optimistic that it was possible.

When asked at that meeting, Williams told the board “I’m not going to say you’ll make it, but it will be real close.”

According to estimates presented to the board in December, construction was only about 28 days behind the point that would allow the school to be ready for an August 2009 opening. Two months later, the project is now more than a month past the original contract date of mid- to late October.

On a more pleasant note, County Administrator Bill Ring — who was recently named the new clerk of the works for the school project — noted that the Virginia Department of Transportation has agreed that Grayson will not be required to foot the bill for a new pipe to be installed under the roadway near the school.

Earlier, VDOT had said that the pipe was not sufficient to handle the additional water run-off from the school and its turning lanes and that the county would be required to spend the money to fix it.

After VDOT received several calls from local legislators, Ring said the state has since withdrawn that standpoint and is going to instead extend the pipe out under the turning lane.

Ring is taking the month of February off as county administrator as part of his deferred retirement plan. He will return to the job in March and continue until May, when he is expected to retire.

For the month of February, Ring is employed by Vannoy Construction.

Former clerk of the works — school system Maintenance Supervisor Roy Anders — was taken off the job after work at the school system started to back up, and Ring became available.