When the Cumberland County Budget Committee met Tuesday afternoon, they breezed through their agenda items… unanimously approving budget amendments for the highway and sanitation departments, general government and debt-service fund budget amendments.
Then they got to the Board of Education’s year-end adjustments and budget amendments section. Most of those even went through relatively quickly. The lone sticking point was the Crab Orchard Elementary School building project.
Kim Chamberlin of Upland Design Group told the committee he’d spoken with Keith Wilson, of Wilson Construction, the contractor for the project. They discussed the three specific factors that drove the quote for the building project well above the expected cost. The first was the difficulty in finding contractors to bid on the job, with the ongoing construction boom. “I’m thirty-six years in this business. I’ve never seen it this busy,” he said. Second was the new tariffs on steel, aluminum and other building materials.
But the most-significant factor was the cost for site excavation. The new school will be built on the site of the former football field – which sits on as much as ten feet of rubbish and building debris. “That was not something that we foresaw, at all,” Chamberlin said. “We can’t even re-use it – it’s all got to be hauled off.”
Asked about the possibility of disposing of the material onsite, rather than carting it away – and whether that might reduce the $1.5 million site-excavation price tag, he said not having to cart the debris offsite would indeed bring costs down.
Third District Commissioner Rebecca Stone commented, “Wherever we put it, let’s make a note – so we don’t build on it again.”
Demolition of the old building is included in the quote for the project, which is expected to take 14 months to complete.
Given that the site-excavation costs were not going away, discussion then turned to other ways to cut expenses. Chamberlin said his company has chosen to forgo nearly $60,000 owed by the county. “We’re not going to invoice the county for our overage – that’s about $58,000. We’re going to give back. It’s our community, it’s our county,” he said.
The scope of the new facility has been scaled back from its original plan, but there’s not much more they can cut, he said. However, city inspectors in Crab Orchard may agree to waive permit fees in an effort to keep costs down.
The project’s 14-day bid-acceptance period ends today. But in speaking with Wilson, Chamberlin said he anticipates no problem with extending that period until this matter is ironed out.
The other looming issue is the ongoing sewage problem. First District School Board member Jeff Freitag told the committee the existing septic system is inadequate. As for the soil, “it’s saturated,” he said. “They’ve engineered the system for a maximum [septic load] and it’s running at that maximum the whole time.” However, with 45 acres of land available, there should be plenty of room for a new septic system.
Chamberlin said code-specific low-flow plumbing fixtures in the new school building will abate the existing issues – as will new grease interceptors for the kitchen. Plus, the kitchen will have its own designated septic system, apart from the rest of the school facility.
Freitag said the Board of Education is convening a special called meeting this afternoon to discuss a proposal put forth by local civil-engineering firm Tare, Inc. The meeting would also provide an opportunity for the board to re-evaluate its options with regard to funding the building project. One option is to allocate funds earmarked for part of the CCHS reroofing project toward the building-project budget overage.
Committee chairman Allen Foster recommended recessing the meeting and reconvening Thursday afternoon. “We’re trying to make sure the funds are allocated appropriately,” Foster said. “Process matters.”
Eighth District Commissioner Sonya Rimmer agreed. “I feel like that gives everybody time to mull this over,” she said.
After extensive discussion, the meeting was recessed until 4:30 p.m. tomorrow, when a motion for a single Board of Education line-item shift of $217,565.26 is expected to be presented for approval. The meeting will be held in the small courtroom on the third floor of the courthouse.