Horry County Schools staff ‘nervous’ after another school construction delay

CONWAY, SC (WBTW) – Staffers for Horry County Schools already had concerns about the construction schedule of three new schools before Monday. Any more delays would impact the start of school, the district’s executive director of facilities said in April. The builder, First Floor Energy Positive, announced new delays at Monday night’s school board meeting.

First Floor promised to finish the schools by May 2017 when it submitted the most over-budget proposal in 2015. The latest delays, which the company’s CEO blamed on weather, extended the schedule by another six to ten days. Robbie Ferris told the board he now expects to finish St. James Intermediate, Ten Oaks Middle, and Socastee Elementary in mid-July.

The district can’t begin moving in until the schools are finished and, according to the district’s technology director, technology installation alone could take up to a month. School is scheduled to start on August 23.

When speaking to the board on Monday, Ferris suggested district staff was comfortable with the schedule. Neil James, the board’s vice chairman, appeared to want proof. “Can I ask our staff if they concur with that?” questioned James.

The district’s executive director of facilities, Mark Wolfe, walked to the podium and stood next to Ferris. James asked him, “Do you still feel comfortable with this, that we can open our schools on time and have everything ready to go?” Wolfe paused for about two seconds. “It’s a very tight time frame and I’ll be honest, staff is nervous,” Wolfe replied.

Ferris told News13 the latest schedule change accounts for weather delays since the beginning of the year. He said the delays are tabulated “about once a quarter,” which suggests the latest numbers account for January through April.

When asked whether recent rainy weather had been incorporated into the latest change, Ferris answered, “I don’t know the answer to that. I would have to check and just because it rained doesn’t necessarily mean there’s a delay.” Ferris says the builders try to work, even when they are eligible for weather delays.

First Floor’s contracts describe “adverse weather days” as days with more than a tenth of an inch of rain. Every “adverse weather day” beyond two days per month allows First Floor to extend the contract by a day; the builder would be allowed to finish the schools later. Contracts for previous school projects required the builder to prove the contractors couldn’t work before they’d be allowed an extension due to “adverse weather.”

Ferris said he doesn’t expect any other delays. He’s made similar claims in the past. In April, according to meeting minutes, Ferris told the district’s facilities committee he was “very confident” in the schedule. A district staffer asked whether rain delays had been included in the schedule. Ferris answered “yes.” It’s unclear to which rain delays Ferris was referring because First Floor just added rain delays for the first quarter of 2017.

“We expect the buildings to be complete so that students can occupy the buildings when they show up for school,” Ferris said Monday.

As Ferris stood beside the district’s facilities director on Monday, the board’s vice chairman said, “While you’re both here, will you both please nod that you all will work extremely well together to make it happen?” Both men nodded.