Shocked: Architect has never seen projections that far off

Published 9:45 am Thursday, April 23, 2015

Clark Pierce can’t recall ever being part of a project with bids that came in so grossly over budget.

For months, he has smiled his way through informational presentations about the new Davie High School, but at last week’s board of education meeting, he was somber and his voice quiet as he told the board he wished he was there under more pleasant circumstances.

His slide presentation revolved not around the mounds of earth that have been moved to make way for the new school, but rather around what he sees as the reasons construction bids came in well over budget.

“We are as disappointed, and quite frankly, as shocked as the board, but we want to offer by way of explanation, as opposed to excuses, where the construction market seems to be and perhaps why we’re at the point we are,” Pierce said.

Pierce admitted he and partner Wesley Curtis, of Walter Robbs Callahan & Pierce architects, had some idea construction costs could be higher than the anticipated $54.5 million in bonds voters approved last May, because the economy has started to rebound.

He also cited large construction and other major projects taking place in Wake and Charlotte/Mecklenburg systems, projects that have not only reduced the availability of contractors and subcontractors that would be comfortable with projects of this size, but also driven up construction costs practically overnight, he said.

But by the time he had an inkling things might not go the way everyone hoped, he was at a point of nearly no return with the drawings, which were about 90 percent complete.

“When your drawings are that far along, it’s pretty much to back up at that point … you say roll the dice,” he said.

Hoping to avoid the backlash that would have resulted from making major cuts to the school before it was bid, cuts that possibly wouldn’t have been necessary in the end, he plodded ahead and hoped for the best.

Of the eight firms that were prequalified, only four bids were opened. The lowest, from Branch and Associates, has since been declared nonresponsive, because they left off a key piece of documentation that discloses how much minority participation would have been used in the project.

Chad Fuller, school board chair, said the MWBE form is required by NC General Statutes and without it, the bid must be rejected.

That leaves the next lowest bidder, New Atlantic Contracting, with a base bid of $61.3 million. With some of the 19 alternates not included, the base bid becomes $55.9 million,.

Wesley Curtis told the board options within the mechanical, plumbing, and electrical systems are being explored to determine if materials could be purchased at lower prices.

“We have come up with a lot of options during this time, some the school system feels they can’t take, some they can. We have options, some we would prefer to have not had to take, but we feel optimistic about this,” he said.

Superintendent Dr. Darrin Hartness noted representatives from New Atlantic were at the meeting, and he thanked everyone for their diligence in efforts to make adjustments to the plan and get it within budget.

“We are not talking about chopping off wings or reducing the size of the school,” he said. “We are making other adjustments. We’re not going to compromise academic programs or the quality of the building.”

He said until bonds are sold (anticipated for April 21), the board was not able to enter into a contract with New Atlantic. But the board did vote unanimously to hire a project manager.

Jim Moorefield will oversee the project at a cost of $55 per hour, not including travel and other expenses, from April 14, 2015 to Aug. 31, 2017, with an option to extend the contract beyond that if necessary. Moorefield lives in Colfax and oversaw the renovation of Davie High in 2007. He has worked for other school systems and at Wachovia Bank in building operations.

Hartness said, “Mr. Moorefield brings a wealth of experience to Davie County. We are contracting with him to provide project management and oversight of the construction process and opening of the new high school. He will be onsite on a regular basis, ensuring the plan specifications are being met by the general contractor and subcontractors.”

During the public comments portion of the meeting, Marsha Dove thanked the board for their hard work.

“I believe this community, no matter what the cost, still needs the new high school and I know you will try to do this as cost efficiently as possible,” she said.