Schools building up to Phase III

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By Christopher Brooke, Reporter

HILLSVILLE — Educators continue to build toward a third round of facility improvements, as the Carroll School Board decided to seek proposals from construction management firms at the Dec. 8 meeting.

Having heard about the benefits of using construction management firms during a presentation from representatives of Skanska at an earlier meeting, the Carroll school board on Dec. 8 decided to issue a request for proposals. The board is considering hiring a private company that would assist with planning and overseeing building in the final phase of a countywide facility improvement program.

The school board approved unanimously a motion by member Harold Golding to seek the proposals.

Because Virginia Tech has five construction management firms working on projects at its campus, Carroll Schools Superintendent Greg Smith believes the county will get at least that many proposals.

The school board members will review the responses in January and decide how to proceed from there.

The presentation from Skanska stressed that the school division could get higher quality construction through hiring a management team experienced with big building projects to participate in the planning, directly oversee contracting firms and the work they do — all while encouraging more competition among subcontractors to save the schools money.

In addition, educators have heard from consultants that the slow economy and the soft construction market could mean as much as 30 percent savings on Phase III.

This latest round of work could entail building a new high school and renovating the current high and intermediate schools to house grades 8-9 and 6-7, respectively.

These were originally projected at $62.7 million, while the alternative idea of renovating the high school for grades 9-12 and the intermediate for grades 6-8 was projected at $35.1 million — but that was before the expected savings from a competitive market came into play.

If the schools realize that savings, those prices could fall by $24.7 million for the new construction plan and $14.1 million for the all-renovation plan.

Since the planning began, Smith has heard reports of even better outcomes from other school systems, like a project in Washington County. It was estimated at $12 million, but when the bids were submitted the project cost fell to about $6 million — a 48 percent savings for that school division.

Whatever form it takes, Carroll's Phase III will be complex and require the expertise that a construction management firm has to offer, Smith told The Gazette after the meeting.

"Any time you have the renovation of a 200,000-square-foot building that's 40 years old, there's not going to be a lot of institutional memory of how it was constructed," he said.

For example, educators expect to have to replace the heating and cooling system, but a construction management firm could take a look at the other major systems and give advice on what should be done with those, Smith explained. Their advice may lead to additional savings that will best maximize the funds that are available.

Issuing the RFP is a prudent step for the educators to take, while working toward the final phase of the school construction program that's been ongoing since 1997, Smith said.

It's imperative that county officials consider proceeding while the economy is facilitating tremendous savings on construction projects, he said.

"We are acting as directed by the board of supervisors to continue the Phase III planning," the superintendent said. "We are hopeful the board of supervisors' actions in the future would take advantage of the cost savings that we are seeing in the construction market at this time and that the actions we are taking now will enable us to respond quickly once approval for funding has been provided to the school district."

Educators continue to seek out all possible avenues for funding school projects including state literary fund loans, the Virginia Public Schools Authority bond, Qualified Zone Authority Bonds and Build America Bonds.