The Blount County school board during a called meeting Monday will review plans to renovate its two 40-year-old high schools over five to seven years.
If the school board approves the plans during its regular meeting, Dec. 6, it could send them to the Blount County Commission in December or January. If the commission approves, the architect then would prepare construction documents needed to solicit bids for the work.
“Our hope is that we can start in June 2019, but a lot has to happen between now and then,” Director Rob Britt said during an interview last week.
Last month, the Board of Education, the school board’s formal name, approved the concepts for the renovations, estimated at $99 million in 2019 costs. Because students would continue to attend classes during the renovations, that would require doing the work in phases, with costs expected to rise each year.
At Monday’s called meeting, the board expects to review details for the scope, timing and cost of each phase.
First priority: crumbling brick
One of the critical priorities for Phase I will be dealing with construction issues that have led to moisture intrusion in the buildings, causing crumbling bricks on the outside and leaks inside.
“We have to solve that problem first,” Britt said.
Heritage and William Blount high schools were built according to construction standards in the mid- to late-1970s, which did not include today’s practice of leaving an air gap between the brick and cement block.
Repairs will involve removing and replacing almost all the brick on the two schools and roofing work estimated at about $8.84 million. The cost estimate for that work at William Blount is much less than at Heritage because the contractor wouldn’t have to replace the brick on a large section at WBHS where a new entrance to the school would be added.
While doing the moisture intrusion work, Britt said it makes sense to do related roofing and to replace heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems.
William Blount High School’s HVAC pipes sprung a leak the same day the renovation proposals were presented to County Commission members during a meeting of the Education Committee at the school last month.
HVAC costs are estimated at nearly $8 million across the two schools. In addition to replacing the outdated pipes, the plans would upgrade the HVAC units to ensure those systems and the mechanical rooms at the high schools could accommodate additions.
Security also is a priority for the first phase, Britt said, with the goal to create more secure entrances and move students out of portable classrooms.
Finally, Britt said the science labs are expected to be in Phase I.
The condition of the schools’ science labs has been an issue for years, with inoperable water faucets, gas lines and other facilities needed to allow students to conduct experiments. The preliminary estimates include more than $775,000 for chemical-resistant cabinets in the science labs.
In addition to ensuring the schools have efficient HVAC systems, the renovations would upgrade the power and change lighting to more efficient light-emitting diodes, as well as adding controls such as occupancy sensors.
“We spend a lot of money in these two 40-year-old buildings for energy,” Britt noted.
Today’s building codes require energy efficiency comparable to what was required a decade ago for a project to earn certification under the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) green building standards, according to Barry Brooke, executive vice president for LawlerWood LLC, which Blount County Schools hired as a project manager for the high school renovations.
With extensive renovations, building codes may require upgrades to an entire facility, Brooke said.
When the bidding was done to build Alcoa High School, which opened in 2015, LEDs still were more expensive than fluorescent lights, but now the costs have become comparable, said Brooke, who also was the project manager for Alcoa City Schools on that project.
The power upgrades also will accommodate the move to digital learning, since every student at both Heritage and William Blount now has a Chromebook computer, something unimaginable when the schools opened in 1977 and 1979.
Included in the estimates is $984,000 for each school to cover data wiring, wireless access points and classroom audio/visual aids.
Floor to ceiling
Nearly $6.4 million in the preliminary estimates is to replace the existing ceilings, replace flooring and paint existing spaces.
That also includes money for asbestos abatement. Asbestos was widely used in construction during the 1970s for everything from pipe insulation to floor tiles, and it may be hazardous if damaged or not properly removed.
During 2013 renovations to Maryville Junior High School, workers removed about 3,000 square feet of tile in areas such as the lobby and administrative offices because of asbestos, according to articles from The Daily Times when that work was progressing.
Questioned about the need to replace the existing ceiling during the Education Committee meeting, Brooke explained that doing the other work will affect the ceilings.
Locker rooms and theater
Nearly $5.3 million of the estimate is for renovation and expansion of athletic facilities, including locker rooms, coaches’ offices, concessions and restrooms. Included in that is more than $216,000 at each school to replace the telescopic bleachers in the gym, which have been inoperable.
Blount County Schools spent nearly $500,000 this year to clean, seal and caulk the two football stadiums.
To replace the theater seating, stage curtain and lighting at both schools, the estimate includes $584,775. In addition to band, chorus and drama students, Britt said the theaters are used by community groups.
Also included in the estimate is more than $850,000 for each high school to replace food service equipment. Brooke has said some equipment at the high schools might be reused in other schools.
The estimates include nearly $5 million for furniture, fixtures and equipment. Much of the furniture in the two schools has been there since they opened, with desks that have been welded or bolted back together as they began falling apart.
LawlerWood has been working with architect Michael Brady Inc. on the design and phasing to ensure the district doesn’t pay twice for work, Brooke said. The goal is to come up with an economic long-term solution so the schools can serve students for another 40 years.
LawlerWood estimated that to replace the existing schools, including their athletic facilities, would cost $81.5 million for William Blount and $83.2 million for Heritage at today’s construction costs.