School makes progress on construction
Jeremy Nash
Loudon County Board of Education is on target with two construction projects, and board members hope a contract dispute with Knoxville-based architect firm Weeks, Ambrose & McDonald can be put aside so an addition can be completed at Highland Park Elementary School.
The firm Cope Associates, Inc. Architecture showed drawings of the proposed Loudon High School to BOE members last Thursday during a workshop. The plan is to build 12 classrooms, a new band room, two additional science labs, a culinary arts room, additional dining room space and a secure entryway in the front of the building leading to the new office.
Loudon County Director of Schools Jason Vance said an outside “park-type” setting will be featured between the new addition and old building.
“It’ll give us an opportunity to bring all of our teachers into one building, and it will give us opportunities to do obviously some (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) activities that we’ve not been able to do in years past because of our science labs not being up to date,” Vance said. “So that’s going to be really, really positive.”
Cope Associates representative Cayce Smith said the main addition will be 33,340 square feet, and the dining room area will be 3,368 square feet. She anticipated the project would be put out to bid by the end of the month, which is estimated to cost $6.15 million.
“We’re putting the final touches on them now,” Vance said. “I think that within the week they’ll have them prepared to be approved by the fire marshal’s office, and so after that we’ll be sending out the bids, so I think we’re almost there.”
Vance estimated the fire marshal would review the plans for about a week. If approved, the project will then put out to bid and should take about three weeks to award a contractor. He said he anticipated dirt would be moved in November, and barring delays the project would take about 1 1/2 years to complete.
“We did a thorough needs assessment with community representatives,” Ric Best, BOE chairman, said. “We talked extensively with teachers, administrators. We really believe that that plan is going to provide the need for Loudon County students for at least the next 25 years.”
Best said Cope Associates hadn’t told the estimated capacity, but he believed it would be at least 900 students.
“The community has really supported the addition to the high school,” Smith said in an email correspondence. “Student safety is a top priority of the school board and they have worked collaboratively to provide solutions to the issues their students face. We are proud to play a small role to help the school board meet their goals of academic achievement.”
Tech center coming along
Replacing the LCTC roof should take about four to six months once a contractor has been awarded the bid, Vance said.
“The LCTC roof project is currently out to bid,” Smith said in an email correspondence. “We will receive bids on Tuesday. The project schedule will be determined by the selected general contractor and the schedule they provide will be used in the evaluation of the best bidder.”
Vance said he was hopeful the project would also include replacement of the heating, ventilation and air conditioning units on top of the building. The project is estimated to cost less than $750,000 and about $93,000 for HVAC unit replacement, he said, adding the money would be taken out of the Adequate Facilities Tax Fund.
“This board has been very conditioned about trying to move as quickly as we can on projects and still being prudent about making sure that we have a good grasp on all the details of construction,” Best said. “And whenever a project like that roof when you’re dealing with an older building that has to be examined and then modified, you’re putting new air condition units in there, we would like for that to move as fast as possible but we can’t make it move any faster than it can.”
A new roof is needed, especially with a welding vocational course being implemented in January, Vance said.
Dispute ongoing
Vance said the only thing holding up work on Highland Park Elementary School is a dispute with Weeks, Ambrose & McDonald. The architecture firm wants about $50,000, but school board members are hesitant to pay the firm for something they don’t believe is earned.
“Obviously we want to move on, but we also want to make sure that basically we’re not paying Weeks, Ambrose  & McDonald for work that wasn’t even done,” Jeremy Buckles, board member, said. “So I guess here basically what has happened so far is the board has voted not to pay them that extra around $50,000 because it was for work that they actually never completed.”
Both parties were initially represented by attorney Chuck Cagle but have sought legal counsel elsewhere. Vance said Knoxville-based attorney Greg Logue was retained by the school board a couple weeks ago after it was determined the issue could not be resolved. 
During a workshop last week, Vance told board members he hoped some middle ground could be found so that the two parties could move forward with selecting an architect firm and begin work.
“We have no question that we have a strong standing to win an arbitration on the matter, but arbitration is expensive for everyone and those are funds that could be used ultimately for a school-based project such as construction,” Best said. “So it’s just one of those things where sometimes you just do what you have to do. 
“I don’t think that our board will agree to pay the full amount that they’re asking for because it’s for work they never did, and we’ve offered them what we think is a fair and negotiated with a settlement to be negotiated by an attorney and it’ll be up to the other side,” he added. “The ball is more or less in their court now.”
Best said the school board attorney has stated he believes they are in “good standing,” however it could cost more to prove they are right than it would be to actually just pay an amount and move forward. 
“It’s really hard to see right now exactly where it will wind up,” Buckles said. “We obviously want to avoid going to court for getting in some situation where it’s going to cost us more money than we would wind up paying in the first place, so I think — that’s me speaking right there, my thoughts on that — but right now it’s kind of in the hands of our attorneys.”
The school board has about $9.8 million to work with on the LHS and HPES projects. Vance said he hopes the issue with Weeks, Ambrose & McDonald can be resolved by November so an architect can be awarded the bid, begin drawing plans and send them to the fire marshal’s office for approval. 
“It’ll take a long time to do all the front end work and then hopefully we’ll be able to start with Highland Park sometime beginning of the next year,” Vance said. “I’d like to be able to see us moving forward with that one in the spring, sometime in the spring of this upcoming year.”