By Stefanie Jackson
The Northampton school board chose a local contractor to repair the badly damaged exterior walls of the Northampton High School auditorium in a unanimous decision Nov. 29. The contract was awarded to Jim Wert Builder Inc., of Belle Haven.
The local contractor submitted the low bid of $49,271. Conrad Brothers Inc., of Chesapeake, Va., which previously had done similar work on the high school cafeteria, submitted a bid of $59,888.
Northampton schools Director of Operations Chris Truckner was initially concerned about the $10,000 gap between the two bids received, but after further discussion of the work with a representative of Jim Wert Builder, Truckner recommended accepting the local contractor’s bid.
Both bids were low in Truckner’s opinion. He suspects that after the project is begun, workers will discover further damage that needs attention, which was the case when the cafeteria walls were repaired about three years ago.
Truckner is staying “open-minded” about how much work the auditorium will need. The contractors are “being realistic and have black and white plans in front of them,” but “once they get in there and start removing the ve-neer, that’s when we’re going to find out the unforeseen,” he said.
When the cafeteria wall repairs were started, after the veneers were removed “we found out that there was over nine-and-a-half inches of movement in the top corner and cracks you could stick your arm through,” Truck-ner said.
The demolition portion of the auditorium project will take place during Christmas break or on weekends when no students or staff are present on school property in case of a “catastrophic failure.”
In light of Truckner’s suspicions, Northampton schools Chief Financial Officer Brook Thomas made the unconventional decision to build a 50 percent contingency into the project cost. (Most construction projects include a contingency of 5 to 10 percent of the total cost to cover unforeseen expenses that may be incurred during the course of work.)
Thomas proposed transferring the $65,116 left from the cafeteria project to the auditorium project and appropriating an additional $33,426 for a total school budget appropriation of $98,542, exactly double the bid submitted by Jim Wert Builder.
Thomas’ intent is to avoid a delay such as stopping work during the two-week Christmas break for an emergency school board meeting to authorize more funds if additional necessary repairs are discovered after the work is begun.
However, “I can guarantee you that the final scope of this project is going to be far greater than $98,000,” Thomas said.
Truckner warned that the met-al roof decking over the auditorium is corroded and rotted, and it will be “completely destroyed” and need to be replaced by the time the wall repairs are completed. The roofing just outside of the auditorium project area will also be affected.
Making only the immediately necessary roof repairs will cost about $200,000 as opposed to $700,000 or $800,000, Truckner said.
School board member Nancy Proto made a motion suggesting audio recordings of the school board’s pub-lic meetings should be made available on BoardDocs, the website used by Northampton schools and many other organizations to store and manage meeting agendas, minutes, and other documents.
Proto, an at-large school board member and resident of Cape Charles, says several citizens in her jurisdiction have requested audio recordings of school board meetings be-cause they can’t attend due to work or family obligations.
They also complained that school board meeting minutes are often not completed and not posted on Board-Docs until a month or two after the meeting and the minutes are difficult to locate on the website.
Proto envisioned an inexpensive solution – posting the simple audio recordings that Executive Secretary Karen Pitt makes and uses when com-piling meeting minutes.
Superintendent Eddie Lawrence said if the school board would make audio recordings of its meetings avail-able to the public, it should be done right. An audio recording system with nine or 10 microphones for use by school board members, the superintendent, and citizens making public comments is priced at $3,500 to $4,000 – a prohibitive cost.
School board Chairman William Oakley said he didn’t know if it was necessary “to react to a small group” and he would be more apt to support Proto’s idea if there was a large group backing it.
School board member Randy Parks was concerned that the knowledge of being recorded might “diminish” the “spontaneity among us.”
“I don’t mind saying something stupid in front of you guys, but maybe if the whole world could be listening I will be, you know, less spontaneous,” he said.
Proto’s motion was not seconded and there was no further discussion of the matter.
By Stefanie Jackson