Whitehall News

First day: Sept. 4

Start of school poses a time crunch for construction project

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Two last-minute stumbling blocks in the Whitehall City School District's $78 million construction project will pose a significant time crunch for planners who are looking ahead to the start of the 2013-14 school year.

Students return to the classroom Wednesday, Sept. 4. Teachers begin organizing their rooms Aug. 26.

The snafu involves contracts to complete renovations at both the old Kae Avenue Elementary School and the saved portions of the old high school.

School board members met in special session Aug. 1 to address the delays.

According to project manager Craig Kertesz, of Ruscilli Construction, this isn't the first time the district has faced a tight deadline, and he's confident everything will be ready for the first bell of the new year -- under his new plan.

"It'll be clean and safe," he told school board members last week. "But there will still be work to do."

School officials and construction personnel discovered the problem when they reviewed the scope of work with the contractor who was supposed to complete work on both the old portion of Whitehall-Yearling High School and the old Kae Avenue Elementary School, which is slated to become the new home of the C. Ray Williams Early Childhood Center. Because of a miscommunication, the contractor did not include in its bid electrical work to be completed in the old portion of the high school, meaning they missed a significant portion of the overall contract's scope of work, Kertesz said.

Kertesz recommended that the school board reject the bid and declare an "urgent necessity ... because of the need to complete the work before school begins." Kertesz compared it to rearranging tasks in his "basket" -- minimizing what needs to be completed in order to prepare the schools by Sept. 4 while putting off other renovations until later this year.

That means completing the work that is necessary to open the old locker rooms for high school athletes by Sept. 6, he said, and preparing the old Kae Avenue school by Aug. 28 for the C. Ray preschool programs, including Head Start.

In the motion, board members approved the request to reject the current bid, waive competitive bidding for the scope of the work required to make the buildings usable, authorize the solicitation of price quotes from qualified contractors to perform the work and authorize the superintendent and the district treasurer to procure the required work estimated at about $500,000.

After the start of school, Kertesz said, he will bid out work for what he called Phase 2 of the high school's renovations, which will include Americans with Disabilities Act updates, structural improvements and the rest of the electrical and plumbing upgrades.

Interior improvements planned for the old Kae Avenue building also will be completed after the school year begins.

Kertesz assured board members, though, that he would work around the district's schedule, completing work after hours or on weekends if necessary, in an effort to keep students safe. All construction areas will be closed off and inaccessible to students as work is completed, he said.

In another motion, Kertesz recommended that board also reject bids received for interactive white boards and projectors at the new Whitehall-Yearling High School, authorizing the district to purchase the technology items directly.

The issue has been a hot button for several board members recently after hearing complaints this year from teachers who said the new technology at the other new schools was not functioning properly.

Kertesz said the motion was needed because the bid came in over budget by more than 10 percent. The state, which is funding the district's project in part, doesn't allow that.

If the district were to re-bid the package, the interactive white boards would not be installed in time for the new school year. By purchasing the technology directly, the district would save time and likely would come in on or under budget, Kertesz said.

"This is not the first time we've had a challenge on the job," he said.

Also during last week's special board meeting, members for the first time saw drawings for the addition of four classrooms at each of the district's three elementary schools this year.

The district began last year with four of its five new schools up and running but faced a significant problem. State attendance projections were off, with enrollment jumping well beyond expected figures, leaving some elementary classrooms overcrowded and forcing school officials to move some children to schools other than their neighborhood school.

To address the problem, the district decided to add 12 classrooms -- four to each of the three elementaries.

The 12 additional classrooms are expected to cost about $3.2 million. Interest earnings on state funds and an overall project cost savings are expected to pay for the new rooms.

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