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Construction and Renovations Continue at Avery High School with Frustration Expressed Over Project Completion Timeline Delays

By Tim Gardner

Several delays in the progress of completing new construction and renovations at Avery High School in Newland has the county’s school superintendent frustrated.

Regarding that, School Superintendent Dr. Daniel Brigman said: “I have not been pleased with the progress of the work. There have been too many delays. I feel that it should be completed a lot sooner than what it’s apparently going to be.”

The project’s chief Architect Rob Johnson of Boomerang Design of Charlotte, NC revealed that a new timeline has been established for the project’s completion. Currently, both the new construction and renovations are scheduled to be completed in the spring and summer of 2021, respectively.

Johnson shared: “The top priority for completion is the new, two-story building. The single-prime contractor, Branch Builds’ critical path schedule indicates April 9, 2021 for Substantial Completion and occupancy of the new 2-story building. After which time, the existing Avery High School building “pods” 100 and 200 will be demolished, pod 300 will be renovated, and the remaining sitework are anticipated being completed in spring and summer of 2021.”

Dr. Brigman said that he and other Avery County School officials remain dissatisfied with the completion timeline changes.

“We have been very frustrated with the continuous moving timeline for this project,” Dr. Brigman remarked. “With the completion of the addition at ACHS earmarked for August 2020-last month, having been informed of a spring 2021 completion came as a surprise to all parties, including the Board of Education and County Commissioners.  Our local taxpayers, students, staff, and local leaders deserve a greater sense of urgency by our architect and general contractor.  Having approximately $20-plus million invested in this addition, Avery County will settle for nothing less than the project being completed within a reasonable time frame, under budget and of the highest quality of construction.”

Branch Builds, Inc. of Roanoke, VA and Charlotte submitted the lowest bid of $17,225,279.00 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.

Avery County Manager Phillip Barrier, Jr. said additional costs not included in that $17,225,279.00 that added up to the approximate $20-plus million project total Dr. Brigman noted included various miscellaneous costs such as attorney’s fees, furniture, engineering fees, insurance and permits surveys.

The county set aside $20,296,000.00 for the project, according to Barrier, Jr.

At publication time of this article, Scott Rivenbark, Lead Project Engineer of Branch Builds, Inc. did not respond to questions emailed to him by High Country Press seeking his comments about the construction and renovations delays.

When asked how he would rate the project’s current progress–on the schedule he anticipated, a little behind, a lot behind or ahead at this time juncture, Johnson commented: “The current work is progressing well.  However, relative to the anticipated schedule the overall project is substantially behind.” 

Johnson then gave specifics in defending why the project’s completion timelines have had to be changed.

“This is a result of numerous unfortunate issues, main ones being; during deep excavations along the front of the existing school the geotechnical engineer determined that the existing soil conditions required ‘nailing’ for vertical stabilization; existing utilities in front of the existing school, many within the new building footprint, were found to be in different locations then what was understood from the original construction of the existing school; inclement weather in excess of the NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) data for the monthly normal number of inclement weather days; and COVID 19 impact in particular on sub-contractors for Insulated Concrete Formed walls and electrical and health safety requirements imposed. That resulted in delays in the handling of materials being transported to the construction site and further downtime once materials where delivered to site before they could be installed.”

Some electricians working on the project also had to quarantined for 10 days because of the COVID-19 disease, Boomerang Design confirmed.

Questioned as to the feedback, or lack thereof, to his expressed concerns, Dr. Brigman indicated that the architects and primary contractor’s responses have not been totally to his liking.

“As our architect has noted, this project is substantially behind,” Dr. Brigman stated. “Having constructed numerous projects in the past, I can attest that when projects are this far behind the initial date of completion, processes and people must be put in place to close the gap of time lost while maximizing construction efforts during fair weather months.  We are seeing the current work and completion of the structure improve.  However, more consistent efforts must be made to get the structure under roof and ready for continued work during inclement weather.  Winter is quickly approaching.”

Johnson said there is still a sense of urgency in the project’s completion by his company and that is a top priority of Boomerang Design.

“As architects, we share in the dissatisfaction in the project’s inability to progress as anticipated due of the hardships and adversities encountered,” Johnson stated. “We have known about the facility improvements needed at Avery High School for over a decade. Ever since we were commissioned for this special project, it has been a priority to us. Throughout the planning, design, approvals and public bidding process, we respected each phase milestone completion date. Likewise, throughout the regretful extended construction phase, the much-needed Avery High School facility improvement project has remained a priority to us day-by-day and week-by-week.”  

Johnson then added the following remarks about the Avery High Construction and Renovation project: “As architects, we are responsible for the planning and design. During construction, we are responsible to observe that the work is being done per the drawings and specifications. Whereas, the construction means and methods, site safety and phasing / sequencing/schedule for completion of the work are the responsibility of the single-prime contractor.

“We are grateful of the contractor’s safety record and general quality of work to date. While is it regrettable their work overall is behind the schedule anticipated, given the numerous unfortunate issues and conditions encountered, we are hopeful such hardships are in the rear-view mirror so that the Avery High School facility improvements may be completed and occupied for their intended use.”

The Avery County Board of Commissioners and Avery Board of Education met jointly at Avery County High School on August 10 to view recent progress that has made on the high school renovation and expansion project.

To guide the officials through the construction zone were architects and representatives from Branch Builds Construction, who provided an overview of the project’s recent progress. That progress included the installation of the chiller and the clearing of the work site ahead of the school’s reopening, which happened on August 17.

Barrier, Jr. added that despite the project delays, the final product will be one in which the school system and county residents can take pride, and he is” most proud that the county financed the Avery High Construction and Renovations Project without raising taxes.”