BY MELINDA SKUTNICK

The projected cost for planned renovations at two of Mooresville Graded School District’s elementary schools has increased by more than $3 million over earlier estimates due to COVID-19.

MGSD administrators and the Board of Education held a virtual meeting on Wednesday to discuss the district’s options in lieu of the significant rise in project costs.

In December, the Board approved the design-and-bid contractor and process for construction at Park View and South elementaries. The paired projects include new and improved HVAC systems at both schools as well as full kitchen renovations and gymnatorium additions. At the time, the project was approved at $16 million.

However, as a result of COVID-19 and supply chain issues, the projected cost jumped to $19.2 million earlier this month – a price tag that Superintendent Stephen Mauney said was out of reach.

“We do not have $19.2 million that we can borrow or supplement with local funds to be able to proceed at this point,” Mauney said.

Approved contractors Performance Services, based in Indiana, detailed the project’s changes and hurdles for the Board on Wednesday.

Greg Cave, the firm’s business development director, said that some cost escalations were anticipated, but the ones occurring are bigger than planned.

“COVID has really hurt the school systems, it’s hurt the businesses, and we’re starting to see that now in our supply chain,” Cave said, adding that the project’s bids have “come in high” in addition to shortages in products, such as structural steel, rebar and lumber.

Cave’s associate, Senior Project Manager Steve Bluhm, said it’s a global issue.

“As the worldwide market recovers from COVID, it’s really starting to eat into the availability of materials,” he explained.

Bluhm noted that the pandemic and lack of resources are also causing delays. Originally, the elementary schools renovations were projected for completion in February 2022 completion. That timeframe has now been pushed back to late April or May 2022.

Although delayed completion was discussed Wednesday, the primary point of concern was the $3 million deficit in approved and allocated funding.

Mauney said some preliminary discussions have occurred regarding additional funding from Iredell County or a larger private bank loan to cover the funds. 

Administration, the Board and Performance Services representatives discussed various possibilities for finding the necessary funding or altering the project to keep it under the approved $16 million. Debated options included renovating and adding only one of the two proposed gymnatoriums, delaying the HVAC upgrades and attaining the fund shortage through various measures.

Mauney initially did not have a recommendation for the Board about how to best proceed. At the meeting’s end, however, he provided two options to the Board: “a conditional acceptance of the bids pending the ability of the school district to gather additional funds to cover the bid amounts, that would alleviate having to go through this process again and save us a little time” or approval of a reduced scope in the project and bid to be determined by the superintendent or another scheduled full-Board meeting.

With a tight timeline looming – the MGSD must share its plan with the Local Government Commission by the end of this week for approval – the Board unanimously approved the former option, choosing conditional acceptance pending the ability of the district to find “affordable dollars” to cover the bids.

At this time, “locking in” the bid contracts – a question asked by Board member Deborah Marsh – will keep MGSD from additional unforeseen costs in the construction months to come.

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