Alamance-Burlington school board members have awarded a $26 million contract to Greensboro-based Samet Corporation to complete air quality upgrades at eight ABSS schools.
The work will be funded by the third round of Covid-19 stimulus money that ABSS received last year, as part of the federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER III) package. The school system received a total of $77.5 million in federal Covid-19 relief funding from all three stimulus packages that Congress passed between March 2020 and March 2021, according to then-ABSS chief finance officer Jeremy Teetor.
ABSS assistant superintendent Dr. Todd Thorpe told school board members late last month that Samet will complete the projects under a “design-build contract,” a construction delivery method that requires all aspects of construction to be performed by a single contractor.
“We’re having to marry federal and state regulations together,” Thorpe explained. “Every other school system that is having to use federal funds to do these projects are having to do the same thing. “
Six contractors submitted proposals in response to a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) that ABSS issued earlier this year, he said.
Part of the issue in evaluating the six proposals is that state regulations prohibit cost from being factored into the decision about a contract award, but “federal regulations say you can,” Thorpe said. “Cost can be misleading, and expertise can be misleading,” he added.
Following Thorpe’s recommendation, school board members voted 7-0 to award the contract for the air quality upgrades to Samet.
Samet is currently working with ABSS on two projects funded by the 2018 bond referendum, the Southern High School expansion/renovation and the construction of the seventh high school along N.C. Highway 119, Thorpe noted during a brief discussion about the air quality projects.
Meanwhile, Thorpe said the air quality projects would need to be monitored closely due to ongoing inflation in costs for construction materials, as well as a myriad of state and federal regulations that govern the use of Covid-19 stimulus funding. “We will reevaluate those [budget] numbers because times have changed,” he said. “We know we cannot go over the $26 million mark – this was the balance we had to use for air quality.”
School board members had originally voted in August 2021 to use $37.5 million in ESSER III funds on air quality upgrades at 15 ABSS schools.
However, they later voted 4-3 – despite reservations raised by school board members Wayne Beam, Allison Gant, and Tony Rose – last fall to take $10.5 million from the $37.5 million allocation to award all current ABSS employees a $3,000 bonus with their December paychecks. (Voting to award the bonuses were: Ryan Bowden; Sandy Ellington-Graves, now the board’s chairman; Patsy Simpson, now vice-chairman; and Donna Westbrooks. Beam, Gant, and Rose voted no.)
As a result of that shift in spending priorities, the air quality upgrades will be performed at eight schools, instead of the 15 schools where upgrades originally had been planned.
The school system’s RFQ outlined the following projects, which are intended to improve air quality and/or air circulation:
• Williams High School ($7.7 million): Replace HVAC system and controls; assess whether existing boilers and chillers support HVAC replacement; and replace windows, depending on the availability of funds;
• Broadview Middle School ($4 million): Install complete air-conditioning system (currently shared with Cummings High School) and modern controls; assess boiler and chiller; and replace windows, as funding allows;
• Turrentine Middle School ($3.7 million): Update fan coil units; install modern controls and fresh air induction system; evaluate/repair pipes; and replace windows, as funding allows;
• Western Middle School ($2.9 million): Install complete system with modern controls and assess boiler and chiller; replace windows, as funding allows;
• Altamahaw-Ossippee Elementary School ($2.5 million): Install new equipment with proper humidity controls, air filtration, and fresh air induction system;
• South Graham Elementary School ($1.8 million): Install new equipment with proper humidity controls, air filtration, and fresh air induction system;
• South Mebane Elementary School ($1.7 million): Install new equipment with proper humidity controls, air filtration, and fresh air induction system;
• Eastlawn Elementary School ($1.7 million): Update fan coil units; install fresh air induction system and modern controls; evaluate/repair pipes; and evaluate boiler/chiller.
Each of the six firms that responded to the RFQ were evaluated according to the following criteria: Prior experience with HVAC and window renovation projects for K-12 public schools; previous contract performance; quality of references; proximity to/familiarity with the Burlington area; and proposed fees for the ABSS projects.
The deadline to spend the ESSER III funds has been extended by three months, from September 2024 to December 2024, Thorpe told the board late last month. He did not give an estimated timeframe in which the upgrades would be completed at the eight ABSS schools.