GREENSBORO — Members of Smith High’s booster club and their allies are raising concerns about the quality and timeliness of the ongoing renovation of the school’s athletics facilities.
“There’s been this big Facebook conversation going on,” said Teresa Morris, the president of the booster club. “A lot of the community is wanting to go to the school board to get some answers.”
Morris described taking a tour of the renovated indoor athletics facilities on Dec. 12 with other club and community members and seeing such issues as mismatched tiles, an electrical outlet in a shower and a newly installed door that wouldn’t close all the way.
“It was quite distressing, quite honestly,” she said.
The vice president of the booster club, William Levette II said early last week that he’s planning to speak at Tuesday’s meeting of the Guilford County Board of Education. He said he wants to see the board temporarily halt the project so school system administrators and school community leaders can meet and hash out the situation before work continues.
School system officials say they are working to address lingering issues in the renovated areas at the high school. Some changes and fixes are already in place, some will be dealt with soon and others are scheduled to take place this coming summer when students are out of school.
Work started in June on athletics facilities inside and outside Smith High, which was built in 1963.
Outside, workers are building a new free-standing field house and renovating the stadium to include new rooms under the bleachers and a new porch light. Contractors have redone the football field and are redoing the track around the practice field. That work is expected to be completed this July.
Inside, the project included converting one locker room to a new wrestling room; replacing the plumbing in the remaining locker and team rooms; putting in new lights, stall dividers and plumbing fixtures; and adding new wood floors and energy-efficient LED lights in the gymnasium.
Contractor H.M. Kern won the project with a $4.7 million bid — about $1.3 million to $1.4 million less than what the school system had budgeted. With design services, engineering services, surveying, materials testing, new furniture and fixtures factored in, the project’s total budget is about $7.7 million.
The bid documents called for construction inside the school to start on June 10 last year and end by Aug. 7 so as not to interfere with normal school operations.
Officials signed off on having students return to the spaces at the start of school in August. But some at the school have been less than satisfied with what’s there, and there have been ongoing changes since then.
More typically, it takes about 30 days to go through tweaks and fixes for a project like this, said Sam Masters, the school system’s construction director.
Principal Donevin Hoskins said his top concerns were students lacking benches to sit on in the PE locker rooms up until late December, lack of a sound system in the gym so they could make announcements, and generally the fact that tweaks are ongoing. He said he recognizes that it has become an issue for booster club members and allies as well.
“I think the frustration, coming from them and me and the administration, is from the fact that we haven’t seen the kind of progress that we would have liked to have seen at this point,” Hoskins said.
The benches were installed over Christmas break, and a new sound system for the gym, which was not included in the original design, is on order. For the last home basketball game at Smith, they used an old portable device, but before that they had been doing without.
In a joint interview, Masters and Julius Monk, the executive director of facilities for Guilford County Schools, said generally they are satisfied with H.M. Kern’s work, though there were a few items they felt took the contractor a little long to complete.
“We finally got to the point where we actually put the contractor on notice in November to say that if they didn’t finish it that we would take it over and finish it and we gave them a week’s notice,” Masters said later, during a tour of the facilities for the News & Record on Friday. “They asked for a little more time to come in over Christmas break, which is the best time for them to do it because there are no students in the building, so we agreed to give them that time and verify it again, and while they got a lot of it done, there are still a number of items that are not done.”
The first outstanding item he thought of, though, is putting a sink in the training room, which he said was not part of the original design but should have been.
As for the issue with the benches, he and Monk said H.M. Kern delayed ordering them because of an open question about whether more benches were wanted. They said the contractor should not have waited before ordering the minimum needed for the PE students, but their understanding is the contractor was attempting to be helpful.
Peter Upchurch, H.M. Kern construction vice president and project manager, stood by the quality of work his company has done on the project when reached Wednesday.
Upchurch said H.M. Kern did just what it was contracted to do, followed the design specifications provided, and got the work done in time for the start of school. Since then, however, he said, the school leaders have been unhappy with aspects of the design and requesting a variety of changes, thereby prolonging the work.
Cracks, he said, were pre-existing, not part of the scope of what they were to fix. And his company, he said, is not responsible for the mismatch in colors between the old tiles and the new patches put in where his crews removed items. The colors, he said, were picked by the project team, not his company.
“Our job wasn’t to make it, the area, look like new. It was just to make it perform a little better and up to modern standards,” he said.
He added a clarification to his statement in a follow-up email:
“Our scope of work was to patch the areas where existing items were removed for the modification of the locker room. The scope of this project was to modify the locker room and shower areas to make it perform better for the students. This was not going to be a comprehensive renovation.”
Davis Kane Architects in Raleigh, which designed the project, did not return a voicemail message asking for comment in time for publication of this article.
Monk and Masters said it was apparent this summer that the new tiles being put in were a bad color match with the old ones, and they said they knew that they would eventually want to do something to correct it. Still, they said, they went ahead with the addition of the light-colored tile patches in the rush to get something in place so students could use the facilities at the start of school.
Their plans include installing an epoxy flooring in the rooms with the mismatched tile next summer. Masters said as of now, it looks like they are enough under budget on the project to pay for needed changes like that without going over. He said they’ll look to sit down with the contractor and architect to determine if there are any costs that should come out of the companies’ pockets.
In contrast to work inside the school, much of the work outside is still in the early stages. Yet parties involved are already working on patching some communication challenges.
Originally, the school system planned to put one of the locker rooms for outdoor sports in the spaces being renovated under the stadium.
Hoskins, the principal, said he signed off on that plan, only to later realize the locker room space was going to be too small to comfortably serve the school’s football team.
Masters and Monk said they think the architect may have gone too far in trying to accommodate some aspects of the school’s needs and desires, resulting in an unworkable situation.
The school officials said one takeaway from this whole project is they want to do a better job in the future making sure everyone involved knows what they are looking at when they see initial plans.
The school system came up with a workaround solution, which involved moving the locker room in question to a space in the field house.
Masters and Monk said they are confident that the field house can accommodate the changes without increasing space and that the workaround is going to be a good solution for the school. When first contacted for this article on Dec. 30, Hoskins was concerned the field house space also wasn’t going to be big enough to accommodate school needs. Now, he said, after hearing more explanation from the school system, he’s on board.
He may now need to convince community members. In an interview early last week, Levette, the booster club vice president, expressed skepticism the field house plans will really work for students, especially given what he expects to be future growth in the school’s enrollment.
He said he wants school officials to get the community’s input into consideration on the direction for the work going forward. He said he also would like to see either monthly or quarterly meetings of school system staff with community members to get updates on the project.
Morris, the booster club president, said she’s seeing concerns that what Smith is getting might not be up to par with other schools.
“There clearly needs to be a lot of renovation at Smith,” she said. “I think that’s probably what’s fielding some of the anger from the community.”