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School officials say it will cost $4M to repair water intrusion at Williams High School

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Alamance-Burlington school board members heard a proposal Monday night to repair water intrusion at Williams High School that an engineering firm in Raleigh estimates will cost just under $4 million.

While they didn’t vote to award a contract, board members agreed to authorize the ABSS administration to present the proposal, developed by REI Engineers of Raleigh, to a joint capital oversight committee this morning.

Known informally as OSC, the committee had been established in early 2019, following passage of two bond packages, that included $150 million for new construction and building repairs for ABSS and $39.6 million for Alamance Community College.  The OSC meets monthly to discuss and track progress on the bond projects, along with routine building maintenance projects.  The committee includes includes two county commissioners, two school board members, and one ACC trustee, as well as staff from county government, ABSS, and ACC.

[Story continues below photos.]

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Buckling plaster on the inside walls in the result of the water intrusion.
On outside walls, years of attempting to caulk around bricks to stop the water seepage into the school can be seen all around the building. School officials emphasized the water problem is not one related to roofs, but rather from the outside walls, especially around the foundation of the school, which has a basement, where the school cafeteria is located.

ABSS chief operations officer Greg Hook outlined the scope of work for repairing the water intrusion at Williams High School Monday night (see accompanying graphic).

School officials told The Alamance News Tuesday morning that REI had evaluated the water intrusion at Williams High School and developed a “Proposal for Contract Documents” at no cost.

The proposal for contract documents from REI was part of a lengthy presentation, which included multiple photographs to illustrate the problem, that school board members heard Monday night.

“I’m not asking for any funds, and I’m not asking to put this into design,” the COO said at the outset of his presentation to the board.  “I don’t have a timeline for this.  Our priorities are working with our commissioners on our roofing and HVAC projects.”

“I wanted to show this because the topic was brought up during the finding of mold at schools,” Hook explained.  “A staff member took some pictures in a classroom, and we went out to investigate.  Mainly, the basement is what I want to talk about.  [The] mold is not totally due to water intrusion.”

Hook told The Alamance News later in the evening that the total project estimate, $3.9 million, is for all of the repairs that REI has determined are needed in order to minimize further water intrusion at Williams.

Hook told school board members that, while the repairs could be made in phases, “you want to make sure you’re doing it the right way, and it’s still going to cost money over a lot of years…I wanted to make sure we are all aware of it.”

 

‘This does not cause structural damage’

Hook then went on to explain to school board members what was happening in each of 28 photographs he presented to illustrate the water intrusion, which he said is most evident in “subterranean” classrooms, or those located below-ground level.

There are cracks and gaps in mortar that holds the bricks together, some of which Hook said had probably been there 20 years.  “So when it rains, water is pushing in,” he said.  “Water is pushing in; it seeps in and goes into the brickwork and in the concrete.  Once it’s in there, the water has to go somewhere.  It wants to go to the dry section, which is in the building; the nature of brick, it almost wicks water, so it doesn’t run off.”

Some of the photos that Hook showed the board Monday night looked almost as if someone had tried to caulk numerous gaps along the edges of exterior concrete stairs, and between the brick.

Water is also coming in through single-pane windows, Hook said, referring to small windows at the top of the “basement” level classroom.  “What happens is water sits there, and it can seep through the cracks and then go through the wall, so this is how it evidences itself.  This is not mold: this is what they call efflorescence, not like the Alka-Seltzer effervescence.  What happens is, water gets into the wall, and it leeches through, and as it comes through, it pulls minerals from the concrete and from the brick, and probably from the dirt that’s in there into the interior section, so you have some evaporative nature to this, and that’s the concern.

“This does not cause structural damage,” Hook told the board.  He also said that a new French drain should be installed along the outside of the cafeteria, which he said is also about three feet below grade.

“[This]summer it was raining so hard that it was going into the French drain and coming in at my toes [as I stood inside] the building,” Hook said.

“Again, I want to emphasize nothing structural is going to happen here,” the COO said. “It’s going to introduce some form of moisture that we are going to want to correct.”

 

‘Band-aids’

“Personally,” said school board vice chairman Donna Westbrooks, “this is putting Band-aids on things, [which] we’ve been doing for years.”

Hook later warned, “The problem you have when you tackle this kind of project is you don’t know what’s below ground.  My motive, when we go to OSC is we can freely discuss it…We just want to protect the building envelope.”

Superintendent Dr. Dain Butler added, “When the mold was discovered, I think we all knew mold was in our buildings.  I know common sense is, fix the roof, fix the HVAC, but that’s not possible within our current budget.  The only reason we had to address the mold first was because it was an emergency.”

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