Work begins at new ABSS high school site

Voters who approved $150 million for the local school system in a bond referendum in November 2018 may have wondered when they would start seeing some of the projects begun that were to be funded by that money.

In particular, the largest amount within the bonds was to finance $67 million for a new high school. The Alamance-Burlington school system purchased 96 acres of land along NC 119 in Swepsonville (across from the Honda Power Equipment manufacturing plant) for $2.1 million in 2020.

Since then, the site had been largely dormant – until this week. Workmen, bulldozers, and an excavator can been seen getting to work moving land in preparation for grading and laying the foundation for the new high school, the county’s seventh.

Crews are getting the site ready to install a trailer that will serve as the construction office and to provide a staging area for equipment and materials once construction of the building begins, ABSS assistant superintendent Dr. Todd Thorpe confirmed this week for The Alamance News.

The as-yet-unnamed new high school is planned for 3368 South N.C. 119 and is being designed by Moseley Architects of Raleigh.

The new high school will have 221,000 square feet with classroom capacity for 1,250 students, while core areas such as the gym and cafeteria will have capacity for 1,500 students, based on schematic design plans that were presented to school board members last year.

School board members voted early last year to hire the Greensboro-based Samet Corporation as the construction-manager-at-risk (CMR) for the new high school, ensuring that, as required under a state law, that costs will not exceed a guaranteed maximum price and that construction will be completed on time.

The original farm house on the property can been seen in the background.
And a silo, as well.

The new high school is scheduled for completion in mid-2023, to be ready for teachers and staff about a month before the 2023-24 school year begins, based on timeframes that school board members and ABSS officials have previously established. As the CMR for the new high school, Samet is responsible for putting various aspects of construction (such as electrical and plumbing work) out to bid and is also financially responsible for any potential cost overruns, under the state law that governs that contracting method for public construction projects.

School board members also voted in 2019 to hire Samet as the CMR for the $20.7 million expansion and renovation of Southern High School. Construction for the Southern High School expansion/renovation is scheduled to begin next month and to be completed in November 2022.

Erosion control barriers were being put up around the construction site.


Road work ahead
ABSS officials recently asked Alamance County’s commissioners to release $9.6 million in county capital reserve funding, in part to complete $2.2 million in road improvements that the state Department of Transportation is requiring at the site of the new high school, as well as for the Southern High School expansion, based on figures that were presented to school board members earlier this month.

The county capital reserve funding would also be used to cover approximately $2.9 million in upgrades for the new high school that weren’t part of the original scope of work outlined in the 2018 bond package, as well as repairs at several existing schools.

The required road improvements include construction of a turn lane along N.C. 119, at the main entrance to the new high school, with 300 feet for “stacking,” or queuing of vehicles in the “car rider” line for students, according to Chuck Edwards, Jr., who is the engineer for DOT’s district that includes Alamance and Orange counties.

The 300-foot distance for stacking in the turn lane at the main entrance would accommodate about 12 vehicles, or 25 feet per vehicle, Edwards explained last week in an interview with The Alamance News.

An ABSS contractor would be responsible for building the turn lane; and NCDOT would approve the designs for the turn lanes and inspect the work, Edwards said in the interview. He confirmed that the department would reimburse ABSS for “required external road improvements” that have been identified by NCDOT, in keeping with a state law that governs the department’s operations and funding.

Edwards said construction of a turn lane typically costs between $200,000 and $300,000, which he emphasized was a “rough ballpark” estimate.

DOT had neither received an estimate from ABSS (or a contractor) nor put together one for the required roadwork for the new high school and/or the Southern High School project, DOT’s engineer said last week in the interview.


Road work also ahead along Southern High School Road
“NCDOT is awaiting submittals of the final plan from the school system,” Edwards elaborated. “One of the things they will need is a permit from us for the accesses, and we will issue those once we get the final plans; that’s imminent.” Construction of the turn lanes would need to be done concurrently with construction of the new high school and the Southern High School expansion, he confirmed for the newspaper.

However, bid numbers for the road improvements that DOT is requiring for the new high school came in higher than the engineer’s ballpark estimate, the assistant superintendent told the newspaper this week.

”Samet Corporation true bid numbers” include $$523,657 for road widening and construction of one turn lane for the new high school; and $1,703,215 for external road improvements required by DOT for the Southern High School project, as well as on-campus improvements, Thorpe said this week.

DOT is requiring on-campus improvements at both Southern Middle School and Southern High School, which are adjacent to one another, based on a traffic study conducted in April 2020 for DOT’s Municipal Transportation School Assistance program, Thorpe explained.
The road improvements that DOT is requiring for the Southern High School project that Thorpe outlined for the newspaper include:
· Construction of two turn lanes for the high school on Southern High School Road;
· Construction of one turn lane for the middle school on Southern High School Road;
· One driveway for passenger vehicles on the Southern High School campus;
· One driveway that would serve both the middle and high school, used exclusively for school buses;
· One new exit for Southern Middle School that would be located on the school property;
· Additional queuing for vehicles at both schools.
Edwards said that DOT is requiring 200 feet for stacking, which he said would accommodate approximately 10 vehicles at any given time.


Other internal safety recommendations
A traffic study conducted for the Southern High School project recommended – but did not require – expanding internal stacking at the high school to 3,200 feet, which would accommodate about 128 vehicles on the school property, Edwards said in the interview.

The Southern High School traffic study outlined a raft of other recommendations to improve “internal cross-connectivity” between the middle and high schools, Edwards said. Those modifications would be “internal to each site,” the engineer stressed, and would need to be funded by ABSS, in keeping with the state transportation statute he cited for the newspaper.

For example, the study recommended relocating “parent accesses” and existing access points at Southern High School, Edwards said. “The study recommended reducing those because every time you introduce an access, you introduce [potential] conflict points,” the engineer explained. “It’s a very compact site and a lot of students.

“One of the things that was identified as very problematic was parent loading and unloading, spilling out into the road,” Edwards noted. The study looked at how to substantially increase internal stacking of vehicles by “circuitous routing” of vehicles within the two school campuses and reconfiguring exits to provide a “one-way flow” for traffic.

“The primary challenge,” Edwards pointed out, “is you’ve got two schools that are functioning independently but are affecting one another as far as traffic,” he explained.

There were 2,300 average daily trips per day along Southern High School Road in 2019, which was the latest period available, based on traffic counts that Edwards provided for the newspaper. (NCDOT calculates “average annual daily trips” from traffic counts collected during each 24-hour period and averaged over 365 days, according to the department.)

There were 1,200 average daily trips per day at the intersection of Rogers and Southern High School Road in 2019, based on the latest counts by DOT.

There were approximately 7,000 average daily trips per day in 2019 along N.C. 119, near the site of the new high school.

Traffic typically increases by 1 to 2 percent annually, Edwards said.

The school board has not yet scheduled a groundbreaking ceremony for the new high school, ABSS public information officer Jenny Faulkner confirmed for the newspaper this week.