A top-ranking executive with Samet, the Greensboro-based contractor that’s building the county’s seventh high school along South N.C. Highway 119, assured Alamance-Burlington school board members Monday night that construction is on schedule.
Construction of the $67 million Southeast High School started in late May 2021 and is on target for “substantial completion” by May 26, based on the deadline that Samet and the school system’s administration have set, according to ABSS chief operations officer Dr. Todd Thorpe.
The need for a new high school to alleviate overcrowding at Southern and Eastern high schools – where ABSS officials have said for years that enrollment has long outstripped capacity – formed the underpinning for the $150 million bond package the voters approved for ABSS in November 2018. The high school redistricting plan that ABSS plans to implement for the upcoming, 2023-24 school year also was predicated on the construction of a new high school, based on the plans that were outlined for voters in the 2018 bond package.
[Story continues below photographs of construction.]
The 221,000-square foot Southeast High School is being built on 96 acres at 3368 South N.C. Highway 119, near the Honda Power Equipment in Swepsonville.
“The building has to be broken down into different components because subcontractors who work for us have certain manpower requirements, so we’re not tackling the entire building at one time,” Samet senior vice president Ken Grube told school board members Monday night.
Though several other Samet executives attended Monday night’s school board meeting with Grube, he served as the company’s front man and spokesman in updating school board members on the progress of construction.
“[With] building a high school, the key areas to start on first are the administration area, the entry, the kitchen,” Grube told the board. The kitchen is virtually finished, and crews have moved on to building the “open spaces,” such as the gym and cafeteria, he said. “With the gymnasiums, they button up really quickly,” said Grube. “All the athletic fields are completely done. There’s been a very succinct [approach]; our team has really done an excellent job working with the schedule. The look ahead for the next progress areas: there’s a lot of grid, overhead construction – that’s the time-consuming [work].”
Samet also found a way to work around ongoing supply-chain shortages and delays that have delayed other construction projects, Grube pointed out. “To avoid escalation costs,” Samet purchased materials for the project in advance and stored them in one of the spec buildings that Samet owns in Mebane.
Grube estimated that, within the next 30 days, “lights will start to come on” in the school. Defying an industry-wide lead time of 52 to 70 weeks on switchgears (the components used to control electrical systems), those have been installed, as have the boilers, he said, adding, “We will be starting to crank up the HVAC.”
Construction is between 75 and 80 percent complete, Grube said, telling the board Monday night, “We’ve just got to push it over the finish line.”
“The exciting part I heard,” school board chairman Sandy Ellington-Graves responded, “was on time.”
Samet would be fined $2,000 per day if construction isn’t finished on time
Prior to his discussion with the school board, Grube confirmed for The Alamance News Monday night that Samet would be required to pay ABSS $2,000 per day in liquidated damages (i.e., fines) if the new high school isn’t finished on time.
The construction delivery method (termed “construction manager at-risk”) that ABSS selected for the new high school requires the contractor to finish on time and within a guaranteed maximum price, in keeping with a provision in a state law that governs construction contracts for local units of government, to include public school systems.
Grube told the board Monday night that ABSS lucked out with the timing of the project. “Your high school bid at the optimal time to bid,” he said. Had the project gone out to bid today, he estimated it would’ve probably cost $20 million more to build the school due to inflation in materials and labor costs. “So really, credit [goes] to the board and administration, getting these projects out.”
Ashley Dennis of Raleigh-based Moseley Architects, who designed the new high school, also told the board Monday night that the decision to buy and stockpile materials early on had turned out to be a boon.
“When we say buy out a project,” Dennis said, “normally, we’re buying windows and [other finishes] a little bit later.” Samet saw the direction the market was going and started buying materials earlier, she explained.
“There’s no concern with budget overruns,” Grube confirmed for the school board. “There’s still contingency left.”
School board member Patsy Simpson, who participated in the meeting by phone, wanted to know whether the athletic fields could be used before a certificate of occupancy is issued. “Do they have to wait until after we get the clearance to actually use the facility?” she asked.
Grube said the athletic fields would be “turned over under” the certificate of occupancy.
Thorpe told The Alamance News later Monday night that the Alamance County inspections department is responsible for issuing the certificate of occupancy, and the project has passed all inspections to date.
“In short, you have no concerns about opening on time?” ABSS superintendent Dr. Dain Butler asked Samet’s senior VP Monday night.
“No sir,” said Grube.