School construction runs into delays at Prince Edward Elementary

Published 12:29 am Friday, June 14, 2024

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Prince Edward Elementary teachers won’t be moving into mobile classrooms in July, as originally planned. Students at the school also won’t start the semester in those mobile units, with the change delayed until at least later in the semester. As for why that is? A case of supply and demand. There’s too many construction projects throughout the region, and not enough equipment for contractors. 

The problem, it seems, is the timeline. Originally, contractors were asked to bid on a schedule that would see temporary classrooms ready to go by July 19, with all materials moved in and teachers set up by Aug. 5. As it stands, only one company, Kenbridge Construction, felt confident enough to even submit a bid and even they had concerns about time. It’s because this piece of the renovation, installing mobile classrooms, requires additional power. 

“There’s just not enough existing power at the existing elementary school to (support) 30,000 square feet of work,” said Stephen Halsey. He’s the head of Moseley Architects’ K-12 group, which handles school projects. The company had been hired last fall to develop construction plans for the renovation. But before you can renovate, first you need somewhere to put the children. That means renting 15 mobile classroom units, two toilet units and a teacher workspace, connecting them to power, to all other systems and making sure they’ll be operational for an estimated three years. 

Finding the right power

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But work can’t even continue on installing the units yet, as the contractors need to rent additional power sources. And that’s not easy, as Halsey explained Wednesday, June 5 to the Prince Edward County School Board. 

“Last year, the lead time needed to be 52 weeks to get equipment for project power,” Halsey said. “Equipment we used to get on four, to eight weeks notice, we can’t get anymore. It’s better than it was 18 months ago, but it’s still not back to where it was pre-COVID.” 

Given the fact work on this started back in November, Halsey said his group had hoped they would be able to secure everything needed by the time summer rolled around. Unfortunately, that’s not turned out to be the case. 

“We can put together our best estimation of a schedule, trying to align that with school needs and the market responds,” Halsey said. “Sometimes they respond favorably, sometimes they respond less favorably.” 

And there’s one more tiny issue to deal with. When it comes to the mobile units, there were limited options as to what was available. As a result, the school district had to go with a model that hadn’t been used in Virginia until now. They need panels created to be able to connect the units with the existing school power, to operate during the semester. That means working with Dominion and getting on their schedule, which can’t happen until the units are installed. 

What changes for Prince Edward Elementary? 

So what needs to happen and when will it take place? Life, safety and fire alarms systems all still have to be connected to the mobile units. The same goes for plumbing, electrical and data systems. All of those systems need to be connected back to the existing elementary school infrastructure. 

Instead of being ready by Aug. 5, Halsey said they hope to have the mobile units operational after fall break. 

“We’re looking at more like the middle of October for the transfer of students (to the mobile classrooms),” Halsey said. “(There’s still) a lot of work that needs to happen in a short period of time.” 

Now to be clear, none of this includes the actual beginning of the full renovation. Kenbridge, for example, is only working on the mobile classrooms. Halsey hopes to have a recommendation in place to hire a contractor for the big project by mid-October. 

Halsey said his group should be able to submit site drawings and other construction documents to county officials for review this week. Inside the existing elementary school buildings, the group has finished their hazardous materials survey and sees some issues there as well. 

“We think there’s going to need to be some modest abatement in each phase,” Halsey said. “So as we start finalizing at least our thoughts on what a phasing schedule will be, we’re gonna bake in some time for abatement.” 

It’s nothing alarming, Halsey said. There’s just some floor tile adhesive and some sealants in parts that need to go. 

How will it be paid for? 

Most of the estimated $43 to $44 million for the project will be borrowed. The school district recently received a $8.655 million grant from the Virginia Capital School Projects Fund. That leaves roughly $35 million for the county to pay for.
Supervisors have since applied to the Virginia Literary Loan Fund. If Prince Edward gets approved, the county would be able to borrow up to $25 million at a 3% interest rate, to be paid back over a 20-year period.
That was the first part. Once Prince Edward gets approved for the loan, county staff will work on step two. Depending on how much the loan is for, county staff will then go to the Virginia Public School Authority this fall, to finance the rest. That loan will be based on the market rate at the time, with a term of up to 25 to 30 years to pay back.
As we’ve covered many times before, this is a needed project. Prince Edward County Elementary has multiple roof leaks, problems where some classrooms are unusable due to mold and traffic problems due to the current design, just to name a few of the issues that renovations will deal with.