Fulton Board Members ‘Frustrated’ With Problems On Construction Project

The outside view of the new wing construction at G. Ray Bodley High School. Photos provided by Jerry Seguin, Fulton City School District.
The outside view of the new wing construction at G. Ray Bodley High School. Photos provided by Jerry Seguin, Fulton City School District.

Members of Fulton’s Board of Education voiced their frustration with the architectural firm handling their district-wide building project, while a longtime board member offered a more optimistic view.

The frustrations came to light as board members Wednesday reviewed some of the 80 change orders issued for the construction project in the last month.  A change order is a document that boils down changes in a piece of the construction project to dollars and cents.  Not all change orders will affect the project’s $23.7 million cost as some costs will eventually be borne by contractors or subcontractors.  The district cannot spend more than $23.7 million on its project to improve the high school, Lanigan Elementary, the Education Center building and the athletic complex.  Costs that run over in one area must be balanced by cuts in another.

The board has to approve change orders that increase spending on a piece of the project by $15,000 or more.  There were two such change orders to approve Wednesday night.

One involves changes to the way the new enranceway to the high school is being built.

“Twenty thousand (dollars) in changes is a lot this late in the game,” said board member Brian Hotaling.  Barry Rivet, who represents the district’s construction management company, said that some of the changes were caused by the district asking for minor tweaks, but some of it was due to things that were not in the architectural drawings of the project.

“Frustrating,” said Hotaling, who asked if the added costs of change orders are thratening to force the district to remove pieces of the construction project in order to stay within its budget.

Potentially, said Rivet, “that may be a solution to some of the cost increases.”

Board member Rae Howard said she had “a significant loss of confidence in our architects.”

Board president Bob Ireland said he expressed the board’s concerns at a meeting with the architectural firm, Ashley McGraw. “They definitely knew we were not happy.”

The project has had its problems.  Asbestos was found at the athletic complex, some of it in places that the district believes should have been found before construction began.  The asbestos removal delays pushed the completion of the athletic complex to this coming summer, causing disruption for sports teams.  A wall in the high school girls locker room that was going to be removed had to be kept when it was discovered that the wall was essential to supporting the weight of the roof.  Other, smaller changes have been piling up.  So far, about 260 change orders have been filed for the project.

But longtime board member Robbin Griffin counseled patience.  I’ve been on the board for many construction projects, she said, and “this hasn’t been a horrible project, though there have been some things that have raised my ire.”

She said that the most critical issues — preserving the health and safety of students and staff while construction is underway, and creating an excellent final product — are being met.

As for the architectural firm, she said that at the meeting, “there was acknowledgement for certain things they did wrong.  We didn’t get ‘It’s not my fault’, or, ‘It’s not my problem.'”  Ireland said that it appeared to him that the architect, with whom the district has worked on several projects, had had an eye-opening experience on this project.

“Overall, it’s not been a bad project.”

The district and its contractors are at work now to fold into the project the extra work approved by voters late last year, in an add-on construction project that aims to tackle infrastructure projects in the schools.

“Do we have confidence (in their ability to do this new work well)?  I know I don’t,” said Howard.

“All they can do is do better to try to reprove themselves,” said Griffin.