By Tim Gardner
The Avery County School System and County Commissioners have received good news concerning bids for the Avery High construction and renovation project as they came in much lower than expected.
Those bids were opened Tuesday, April 23, at the Avery County Schools’ central office by Rob Johnson, of Boomerang Design of Charlotte, NC, the project’s architect.
Branch Builds, Inc. of Roanoke, VA and Charlotte submitted the lowest bid of $17,225,279.00, while Hickory Construction Company, Inc. of Hickory, NC gave a bid of $17,811,000.00. Both bids are for all aspects, including general work, alternates and contingencies involved in completing the construction and renovations, which consist of 56,468 square-foot additions and 19,974-square-foot renovations.
H&M Construction Company, Inc. of Asheville, NC had also planned to submit a bid for the project, but did not compile all its necessary monetary estimates to finish its bid, according to Avery County Schools Superintendent Bryan Taylor.
The submitted bids were 17-plus percent lower than the project’s anticipated cost.
Taylor called the bids “outstanding” and added that they were “wonderful numbers and lower than many may have anticipated.” He shared that the two previous bid openings were postponed to provide needed time for the contractor’s bidding on the project to get estimates and additional details needed from subcontractors.
The project’s estimated cost had risen from $19.1 million to $23 million this year. Part of the estimated increase has been attributed to the need to replace equipment at the school, which includes $20,000 for a new boiler.
Taylor said the school system and Johnson had been working to “develop contingency plans if the bids had come in much higher than the $23 million estimate.”
Taylor declared that the project will have “an absolute minimum” of what is needed. It includes utility improvements, new classrooms and offices and Americans with Disabilities Act compliance.
Avery County Manager Phillip Barrier, Jr. commented: “The lower bids are awesome news for Avery County and the future of our children and education. The County and School System officials have worked very hard to obtain monies for the high school project so it can proceed. An approved bid lower than expected will certainly be beneficial in helping get the project rolling. Of course, it’s easier to come up with a lower amount of money to pay for anything. We still have many details to iron out, but the fact the school project can be finished at a smaller cost than originally thought is a blessing.”
It will be the Avery Board of Education’s option to approve one of the two bids. Bids are not legally binding and when they are opened, there is no legal obligation to accept any. But school officials are expected to accept one of the bids since they are lower than anticipated. It appears likely the Board of Education will approve hiring Branch Builds, Inc. to perform the construction and renovations since its bid was the lowest, which Taylor said he will recommend to them.
Branch Builds, Inc. is one the largest construction management firms in Virginia and North Carolina. A subsidiary of Branch Group Inc., Branch Builds, Inc. has delivered projects over its 55 years, including higher education, K-12, multifamily, municipality/government, health care, hospitality and senior living, and is known for its preconstruction, general contracting, construction management, lean construction and design-build services.
Barrier, Jr. said the County Commissioners, Board of Education and Johnson will soon hold a joint meeting to discuss the next steps in starting the construction and renovations process.
Taylor said he hopes that process will begin as soon as the 2018-19 school year ends on June 7, with the project’s total completion likely in late 2020 or in 2021.
The project is a colossal, long-term financial commitment for the county, which had a most-recently approved budget of $29.6 million. The commissioners have expressed concerns that the high school, as well as the school system’s other facilities, would require more projects in the near future and further stretch the county financially to pay for them as well as potentially even more higher costs for the current high school project.
The county has been seeking various public and private lenders to complete it. Barrier, Jr. added that the County and Board of Education will continue to pursue all available grant monies and any other funding that may be, or becomes available to help pay for the project.
The high school construction and renovation project was originally scheduled to proceed to bid after a vote by the Board of Commissioners during their May 7, 2018 regular monthly meeting. A specific reference was made then to a motion for an amount not to exceed $19.5 million compared to the initial estimate of $19.1 million after county attorney Michaelle Poore said that a particular dollar value should be provided with the motion.
The commissioners permitted the project to proceed to bid and use $1.7 million in education lottery funds to pay for its initial phases.