Johnson City’s building inspector is headed to the Science Hill campus today to do a final inspection of the new 9th Grade Academy.
The state fire marshal has signed off on that building’s fire alarm system. And should a temporary certificate of occupation be granted by the building inspector, teachers can ready themselves for the students’ return on Jan. 4 — a feat that appeared nearly impossible about a month ago after somewhat pessimistic reports rolled in from both school and city officials.
“A temporary certificate of occupancy basically means the building is ready for use,” said Tommy Burleson, the city’s construction agent. “There still are things that need to be completed, but these include items on a punch list, outdoor concrete work and minor touch ups.”
Thanks in part to Johnson City Schools’ Christmas break, Chattanooga’s EMJ Corp. has pooled its resources on the student- and teacher-free campus and is rapidly making up for lost time as hundreds of workers hustle in and around the $23-million project.
But trouble with subcontractors and wet weather that created swamp-like conditions at Science Hill High School construction zones has forced the company into the unenviable position of being financially docked for missing the mark on several completion dates.
The company was tasked with constructing four new buildings: administrative offices, 9th Grade Academic Building, dining hall and multipurpose gymnasium. Only the administrative offices have a temporary certificate of occupancy. While it’s still a close call on the academic building, the dining hall will not likely be finished until the end of January; the multipurpose gymnasium is expected to be complete in mid- to late-March.
Burleson said each building must receive temporary certificates of occupancy, but only one building permit will be issued to cover all four structures.
“Along with the temporary CO will come a certificate of substantial completion,” he said. “This means the architect and the city have accepted the buildings, with minor exceptions. I expect that we will get the temporary CO and substantial completion of the academy.”
However, EMJ faces liquidated costs beginning today should that not happen. Neither Burleson nor the company expect to meet today’s deadline for the dining hall and multipurpose gymnasium. But because some portions of the overall project are or will be complete, Burleson has calculated the financial penalty based on the remaining square footage of the incomplete buildings.
Beginning today, EMJ would pay $575 (57 percent of total square footage) a day for the academic building, $293 a day (29 percent) for the multipurpose gymnasium and $70 a day (7 percent) for the dining hall. The remaining 7 percent of the total accounts for the administrative offices.
“When we get the temporary COs and substantial completions, those charges will stop,” Burleson said. “The damages could come in two forms. Either there would be a change order, and the money would be deducted from what is owned to the company, or the company would agree to perform additional work in the amount of financial damages owed.”
Science Hill has an enrollment of more than 2,220 students in grades 9-12. 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.
Burleson said it was not realistic to think that all students who will be using the new academic area would be moved into the new structure all at once and that they may need to be phased in.
It looked as though the company would not make up enough ground in time for the student’s return, and the school system was gearing up to retain the existing (old) third wing in which 11 classrooms are being used for math classes. However, six tractor-trailer loads of furniture are ready to be brought in to the new academic wing, and it is now only a matter of scheduling for demolition of the third wing.
During the Dec. 5 Board of Education meeting, members obviously were disappointed with the news of the slow down. BOE members Lottie Ryans and Jenny Brock asked that details of the contract made available 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.
“It should never have gotten to this point,” Burleson said at the time.
He promised to speak with company representatives and encouraged board members to remain hopeful.
“In all fairness to EMJ, they’ve had a couple of subcontractor issues, and there’s been a lot of weather days,” he said Thursday. “Over the last month they’ve thrown untold resources into this project.”