JEFFERSON — The completion date for the Ashe County Middle School project was set for fall 2022 during a joint meeting of the Ashe County Board of Education and Board of Commissioners Tuesday, Sept. 17.
The joint meeting was the second between the two boards since the plans for the middle school project were drawn up by architect Larry Greene in mid-2018. In attendance were all members of both boards, as well as Interim County Manager Adam Stumb, County Finance Officer Sandra Long, County Clerk Ann Clark, Ashe County Schools Superintendent Phyllis Yates and Ashe County Middle School Principal Dustin Farmer.
The meeting, which lasted a little more than two hours, covered a number of topics regarding the middle school project, particularly its funding, time of completion and contracting.
During a special meeting of the board of education Thursday, Sept. 12, Vannoy Construction was awarded a contract for preliminary rough grading and sediment control at the site of the new middle school, located off of N.C. 88 near the AEV plant at 101 Gates Lane in Jefferson.
With hopes to have the preliminary phase of the project completed by the end of this year, Greene said during the joint meeting that he expects bidding for the next phase of the project to begin in April 2020.
Discussion then centered on whether to conduct the project through a general contractor or construction manager at risk. In attendance for the meeting were Mark Vannoy and Mike Kesterson of Vannoy Construction, who spoke in favor of utilizing a CMAR method for the middle school project.
For a standard general contracting process, a general contractor receives completed plans and specifications from the project’s architect, then collects proposals from various subcontractors. After calculating any additional costs, the general contractor then submits a comprehensive, competitive proposal to the owner — in this case, the board of education — for their consideration.
The general contractor then works as the project manager, overseeing the work of subcontractors and serving as the middleman between the owner/architect of the project and the subcontractors.
The CMAR project delivery method is slightly different, Vannoy explained. Rather than undergoing a hard-bid process, the owner would select a CMAR to manage all subcontracting and construction based on the qualifications and experience of CM contractors instead of bid price.
Once a CM is chosen, they would then work collaboratively with the board of education in selecting subcontractors for each individual job on the project in several open bid session, Vannoy said.
Vannoy added that the CM, with their experience and qualifications, attracts more subcontractors than a hard-bid method. The CM prequalifies each subcontractor in terms of financial capabilities, manpower and design, to determine their ability to complete the job.
“The other way, you’ve got to take whatever comes to you on bid day,” Vannoy said, referring to the general contractor method.
For the CMAR method, it also allows smaller subcontractors, such as electricians or plumbers, to be paired, which Vannoy said attracts more local participation on the project when larger subcontractors are unavailable.
“You want to circulate the dollars — I know you want to keep them as local as you can,” Vannoy said. “That’s the way to do it.”
In terms of the project’s cost, Vannoy said a CMAR method would allow for a budget to be produced within 60 days, which would include a guaranteed maximum cost.
“You’re going to know before you bid what it’s going to come in at,” Vannoy said.
Vannoy added that the chances of making a mistake in a hard-bit situation can be high.
“On a hard-dollar bid, we’re receiving numbers and submitting it probably within eight hours,” Kesterson said. “On a CM job, typically, I’m spending two to four weeks.”
In previous school construction projects for Ashe County, Superintendent Phyllis Yates said that the board has always used a general contractor, and that it never went over budget.
Greene said that with the contractors he has spoken to, he hasn’t heard enthusiasm for one method over the other. Overall, he said there are not many systematic differences between the two methods.
“We’ve already moved past the preliminary stage,” Greene said. “A lot of the decisions that are cost-based have already been made.”
Among other concerns, Greene said adding a third party — being a CM — at this stage of the project could make things complicated.
Vannoy noted that one of the biggest differences with the CMAR method is that the maximum cost is calculated to include all aspects of the project and is guaranteed to not go over that number, whereas in a GC process, if a job has been subcontracted, the job has to be completed at that cost or completely cut from the project.
Ultimately, if the board of education were to decide to go with the CM method, Vannoy said he believes the project would be able to start sooner and would be less likely to go over budget.
Chairman Todd McNeill showed interest in the CM method, saying that it seemed to be a good way to determine exactly how much the project would cost.
“Having a line in the sand, as far as money goes, makes me sleep easier at night,” McNeill said.
Also discussed during the meeting was a perceived lack of communication between the two boards since their last meeting in July 2018. Specifically, Commissioner Larry Rhodes noted that the board of education did not inform the commissioners of the change from a one-story building to two stories.
The change was made in order to prevent the building from being constructed on fill dirt, Greene said. Yates added that she did not inform the commissioners as the revision did not increase the cost of the project.
By the end of the meeting, both boards agreed to communicate more openly with each other.
Both boards also wanted to clarify that the site for the new building does not rest on wetland.
In total, $40 million has been allocated for the middle school project, according to County Finance Officer Sandra Long. Of that total, $25 million is provided by the county and the other $15 million comes from a Needs-Based Public School Capital Fund grant.
Jones said after the meeting that the board of education will discuss which delivery method to use for the project at a future meeting. The meeting adjourned at 12:11 p.m.