Johnson City Board of Education members learned Monday that Chattanooga’s EMJ Corp. is not likely to meet a Dec. 12 completion date for Science Hill High School’s new, two-story 9th Grade Academy and the new Physical Education Building.
Upon hearing the news, BOE members, who obviously were not happy with the news, fell silent and glanced back and forth at each other, eventually offering just two brief comments.
“The reality is we’re not going to be in there after Christmas break,” said Jenny Brock.
Lottie Ryans followed Brock’s downbeat but apparently realistic statement by asking that the details of the contract with Chattanooga’s EMJ Corp. be made available to board members as soon as possible to double check the original completion date, to see if there is wiggle room for an alternate completion date, and to see when and if monetary penalties against the company should begin.
A serious push has been on to complete the new academic area before the Christmas holiday so the old third wing of the former academic area can be demolished. But it looks like alternate plans will have to be made. The contractor has been having trouble meeting deadlines, and the word is EMJ has been having trouble with its subcontractors.
“It should never have gotten to this point,” said Tommy Burleson, the city’s construction agent. “They’re a big company with a good reputation. They’re saying it’s their subs. Right now they haven’t told me they’re going to be late, but it looks like that’s a good possibility.”
Burleson, who communicated with the Press Monday afternoon while en route to the construction site to speak with the contractor, said the liquidated damages — the money EMJ stands to lose after the completion date — is $1,000 per day.
Earlier this year, EMJ ended up eating about $100,000 due to faulty masonry work. Seventy-two door frames in the new academic building did not fit because the masonry walls were incorrectly set by a few inches, missing the targeted space for the door frames and doors.
Burleson was not at the board meeting. But Randy Christiansen, who works closely with Burleson, said after the meeting that EMJ workers are being pulled off the Physical Education Building to work at the academic area, and they may begin working nights in an attempt to finish by Christmas.
The two-story educational wing, which was under roof in late spring, will provide a total of 64 classrooms, of which 28 are dedicated to ninth-graders with the remaining classes to be used as 10/12 classrooms. During construction, which began in July 2010, the existing third wing has 11 classrooms that are being used for math classes.
Should the new academic area not be completed on time, students will continue using that structure and Liberty Bell for most of the social studies classes.
The roughly $26 million expansion and renovation project on the Science Hill campus will create nearly 178,000 square feet of newly constructed area and about 11,400 square feet of renovated area. This entire space will be served by a new $1.6 million central HVAC plant to be located near Freedom Hall.
Besides the academic area and new gymnasium, EMJ also is responsible for finishing a new multi-purpose building that will be used in part as a cafeteria, and a new administration area.
So far, the administration area is the only completed structure.
“Science Hill is the big unknown,” said Dave Chupa, instruction and facilities supervisor. “We’re really at the point where we need to put together a schedule. We’re still pushing hard, but the reality is we’re in a tough situation. We were looking to move into the new Physical Education Building in January. If we can’t do that, we’ll continue to use Topper Palace, and Keith Turner (athletic director) will have to continue to come up with alternate options.”
Chupa and Burleson have kept the BOE and City Commission up on the progress, and both have reported along the way that weather has been a factor in slowing construction. Both men also have reported slight delays because workers had trouble locating existing fiber optic cable, which had to be dug up and relocated.
Though Burleson does not feel the completion date will be met, he apparently still is holding out hope and trying to work with the company to see if they can finish the job on time.
No one spoke optimistically Monday about that actually happening.