Wednesday, August 4, 2021

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School board hears trimmed version of South Mebane addition

The architects who are designing a 12-classroom addition and renovations for South Mebane Elementary School have brought the costs in line with the $8.5 million budget that AlamanceBurlington school board members developed for the project two years ago – but warned that the scope of work may need to be scaled back.

Nonetheless, some school board members got school board members got a bit of sticker shock during their latest discussion about the addition and renovations planned for South Mebane Elementary School, which will be funded with the $150 million bond that voters approved for ABSS in November 2018.

Architects from MorrisBerg Architects in Charlotte initially presented nine possible design options to school board members last fall. At the time, the renovations were estimated to cost $9.4 million. Morris-Berg hired a “third-party cost estimator” to bring the costs for the classroom addition and renovations in line with the original budget.

Lane Allmon and Loren Prosch of Morris-Berg Architects provided a breakdown of the costs for each element of the design and construction of the addition and renovations at South Mebane Elementary School during the school board’s latest work session last week. The costs were developed by Palacio Collaborative, a firm in Atlanta, Georgia that specializes in construction cost management, based on materials that ABSS assistant superintendent Dr. Todd Thorpe provided to The Alamance News.

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The 2018 bond package for ABSS described the scope of work at South Mebane as including: a 16 classroom addition; improving safety and security; installing new flooring, climate control systems, and windows in the cafeteria and media center; renovating restrooms; reconfiguring the main entrance to meet federal requirements for handicap accessibility; building a new kitchen and expanding seating in the dining area; replacing the roof on the kindergarten building; repairing sidewalk damage; and mitigating stormwater runoff and soil erosion.

The 16-classroom addition has been scaled back to a 12- classroom addition, with each new classroom spanning about 875 square feet, Prosch said during the school board’s work session last week.

The 12-classroom addition will increase the capacity at South Mebane Elementary School by 240 students, from 575 students to around 815 students once the work is complete, based on Thorpe’s estimates. There were 627 students enrolled at South Mebane as of the end of the first month of the current school year, according to ABSS.

Allmon said the 12-classroom addition will be designed “to allow for a fourclassroom addition later.” Plans for reconfiguring the main entrance and reception area to meet federal accessibility standards and enhance school security are still intact, as are most of the other priorities that the board had identified for South Mebane Elementary School, he explained during the school board’s work session.

In addition automatic locking doors, the main entrance will have a “secure vestibule,” requiring visitors to “buzz in” before they will be permitted to enter the school, Allmon explained. Decorative fencing will be built around the perimeter of South Mebane Elementary School “to better secure the school,” he said, noting that the cost for the fencing is estimated at $37,500, based on the budget that Palacio Collaborative has developed for the project. Construction costs and fees represent 76.6 percent, or about $6.5 million, of the total $8.5 million budget for the addition and renovations, as Allmon noted.

School board member Pam Thompson described the costs outlined within a 48-page budget that Palacio Collaborative has developed for the project as “unsettling,” and asked Allmon, “Site work demolition – what is all that?”

Part of the $1.2 million estimated cost for site work and demolition would be spent on relocating the existing bus lot prior to building the classroom addition, Allmon responded. “There will also be some changes to where you enter the school,” he explained. The site work also includes costs to improve traffic flow in and out of the school. Additional parking will be created and will also provide “stack space to get cars off the road.” The cost for site work also includes clearing and grading a wooded area of the property where the bus lot will be moved to, Allmon said.

“The kitchen expansion – how much are you adding on for $1 million?” Thompson asked. “It’s like a fairy godmother gave us this bond, but that’s not realistic, especially when you start looking under rocks. It’s just unsettling to see how the money goes down so fast; I know it has to, but at the same time, we just want to get everything we can.”

The space for food preparation will essentially double; the serving line will be moved to where the old kitchen is; and seating will be added, Allmon explained, though he couldn’t immediately recall how many seats will be added to the dining area.

“I appreciate your comments, and I think they’re right, in that we want to make sure we are extraordinarily good stewards and do everything as efficiently as we can,” school board vice chairman Brian Feeley said in response to Thompson’s questions. “There is a series of checks and balances, based on science and data – not just a gut feeling of how much everything’s going to cost.”

School board member Patsy Simpson asked during the work session whether “gym floors and other things” have been added to or removed from the original scope of work that had been outlined in the 2018 bond package.

“The original plan was over that $8 million that was allotted” for the project, school board chairman Allison Gant said, referring to the earlier discussion with the architects. “So [they’re] trying to stay within the scope of funding. The four classrooms – with potential to add on later – [were] what was taken off.”

“The estimates for the bond were really a rough order of magnitude,” ABSS superintendent Dr. Bruce Benson said during the work session. As the construction process continues, “Costs will become clearer,” he said, and “there are likely adjustments that will need to be made.”

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