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New school way behind schedule

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‘No Plan B’ for VWES

By Mark Manicone

Van Wyck Elementary School, which was originally supposed to be finished by June 8, won’t be ready for building inspections until at least Aug. 2, and school officials are worried about it being completed by the start of the school year.
Jimmy Wilhide, senior architect with Moseley Architects of Charlotte, blames a lack of contractors and large amounts of rain at the worksite this year.
“The trades are stretched everywhere.... It’s like this all over the state,” Wilhide told school board members at their  June 26 meeting. “Specifically with the elementary school at Van Wyck, it’s the electricians. Thirty-one electricians were on site today.
“There is a concern with that project, and it is tight, but we are pushing as hard as we can push,” he said.
School Superintendent Jonathan Phipps expressed his frustration over the delays and noted how close the completion date is to the start of school. After the Aug. 2 building inspections, contractors will have until Aug. 13 to rectify any problems the inspectors spot. While that additional work was being done, furniture, equipment and supplies would have to be moved in.
Teachers report for work on the 13th, and students’ first day is Aug. 20.
“I’ll say this as politically nice as I can say it, but what scares me is every project we have is behind schedule,” Phipps said at the board meeting. “And when I see that date (Aug. 13), I realize that it is only seven days from when the students will be back. That more than worries me.
“Talk about something to keep you up at night…. There is no Plan B. I just want to make sure we’re all clear on that,” he said.
If the new school does not open on time, it could have major domino effects throughout the district.
“It really concerns me… because if we’re unable to open that school on Aug. 20, that not only affects the Indian Land area, but Lancaster County as a whole,” said District 1 school board member Melvin Stroble.
Phipps said Friday that the district is still on track at the moment, and it is too early to tell if an alternative plan will have to be implemented.
“The last three schools we’ve built have been down to the wire as well, in this time in August,” Phipps said. “There’s always a chance something goes wrong, but I would not want to speculate…. We would just have to wait and see what happens….
“I would hate for these kids to go to the schools that they were originally zoned for. It would just be too confusing for them,” he said.
Phipps said the district will be on pins and needles because of building inspections. It’s possible the district could be allowed to occupy only certain areas of the school.
“They could give us a certificate of occupancy for the classrooms and not the gym,” Phipps said. “So we would move the kids in and just not use the gym for a while.”
Currently VWES is 85 percent complete. All the roofing and brickwork has been completed, and the mechanical, electric and plumbing rough-ins are in progress. The flooring and ceiling grid are still being installed.
Facilities Director David Small said he faces a tight schedule to get the building open on time, but he thinks it’s doable.
“It will be a push to get them in there – no doubt – but right now we’re making every effort to do it,” he said.
That Aug. 13 date is what bothers Phipps the most.
“I didn’t like that the first day we can occupy is the day teachers come back,” Phipps said. “And I’m saying that from experience.”
School board Chairman Bobby Parker was frustrated at last week’s meeting that there was a lack of communication from the architect to the school board.
“I think our problem is that we were told that we were way ahead of schedule, and now all of a sudden we’re way behind,” Parker said. “There wasn’t anything in the middle. We went from here to here, and nothing in the middle to let us know how things were going.
“I know that’s a big issue we got at this board, as to why this didn’t happen. But it didn’t, so now we’re stuck,” he said. “I went to the Buford complex today, and they hadn’t even put the floor down, so I know it’s not going to be done that date.
“Y’all don’t see the people we do, that make fun of it. I had a fellow that said they’ll build Wells Fargo tower quicker than they’ll build a gym,” Parker said.

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Other district projects
The multipurpose buildings at Lancaster and Buford high schools were supposed to be ready this spring, but were also delayed into the summer months. 
The Buford building was supposed to be completed by April 1, in time for graduation, but has now been delayed until July 16.
The Lancaster multipurpose building was slated for completion June 1, but is now scheduled for Sept. 15. The classroom renovations were slated to be done by May 31, but were pushed to July 2. 
The Andrew Jackson multipurpose building has been delayed from a March 29, 2019, completion date to June 11 that year.
Construction crews have begun clearing land for the new Indian Land High School and removing trees from the site. The projected completion date is May 12, 2020.

Follow reporter Mark Manicone on Twitter @mark_manicone or contact him at (803) 283-1152.