Wood County Technical Center project $1 million more than anticipated

Officials say all projects together remain under $41 million bond budget

Photo by Michael Erb Wood County Technical Center in south Parkersburg is part of $41 million in facilities projects financed through a county-wide bond. Though the tech center project is about $1 million more expensive than originally estimated, officials say all of the projects together are still within the $41 bond call.

PARKERSBURG — Wood County Board of Education members expressed concerns Tuesday over construction project bids for the Wood County Technical Center coming in at about $1 million over budget.

Project architects Chris Campbell and Adam Krason of architectural and engineering firm ZMM provided an update earlier this week on major construction projects for Wood County Schools. Those projects, including a new elementary school in Williamstown, renovation of Williamstown High School and roof replacements throughout the county, are part of a $41 million facilities bond approved by voters in 2016.

Construction has not begun on the Wood County Technical Center, which will be expanded, updated and have a second floor built to accommodate more classrooms and programs. Officials said bids for that work came in about $1 million more than anticipated.

“It’s 10 percent over budget,” said board member Justin Raber. “That gives me great trepidation.”

“The technical center was higher than expected,” Campbell said. “Unfortunately the labor market has told us the cost is going to be a little higher.”

Photo by Michael Erb Pier Bocchini, director of the Wood County Technical Center, spoke Tuesday to the Wood County Board of Education about future plans for expanded programs after a renovation and construction project is completed on the building. Officials with ZMM, the company overseeing the project, said bids for the renovations came in about $1 million higher than anticipated.

Campbell said the increased cost of the technical center work is due to a variety of factors, including fewer bidders, increased labor and materials cost, and increased “scope” of renovation work at the school, as well as other factors which could not be anticipated.

Board members asked whether more could have been done to keep costs down or to better anticipate the market. Campbell said areas of the existing building proved more expensive to renovate, and the building’s heating and air conditioning systems had to be extensively reworked. Many maintenance projects which have been put off for years in the building must now be completed as part of the renovation work, he said. Campbell said officials are looking at ways to reduce the overage.

But board members said they wish more had been done to anticipate the costs.

“This isn’t the first project we’ve done that’s over budget, and the public is starting to get upset with us,” said board member Ron Tice.

Krason said while the company can estimate costs, the time between planning and bidding can lead to swings in the market.

“We have no control over the bidder market. We don’t know what ultimately the cost of those materials is going to be,” Krason said. “We try to get as close to the right number as we possibly can” in our estimates.

Krason also said if taken together, the major projects are on-time and under-budget.

“I would encourage people to look at the bigger picture here,” Krason said. “Three years ago we were planning this bond issue. We developed this budget three years ago to include the roofing projects and the three major construction projects, and at this point, we are under budget on the bond issue.”

Board members Tuesday also took issue with the lack of a connector between the technical center and Parkersburg South High School. The two schools share a campus, but South students who attend the technical center have to walk outside between the two buildings and often block open doors to give them faster access back into the school.

“We’re doing all this work on safety stuff, and that’s one of the things that kind of gives me some heartburn over that,” said board President Rick Olcott.

Cost aside, Krason said officials opted not to include the connector because they wanted to keep the two schools separate.

“There was a question about connecting it to South and making it part of South,” Campbell said. “The tech center was looking to have its own identity.” “That’s not a decision driven by us as designers, it was driven by the school,” Krason said.

“So there was a decision to put identity over student safety, is what I am hearing, and that gives me great concern,” Raber said. “I think that is something we need to look at going forward.”

Campbell said though renovations do not include a connector, they do include numerous security and safety upgrades.

“As a free-standing facility, it will be as safe or safer than any other school in Wood County,” Krason said.

Board members Tuesday also heard from Pier Bocchini, director of the technical center, about planned program changes and expansions for the renovated facility. Some members expressed concerns some classrooms intended to house adult education programs could remain empty as some of those programs will remain at satellite campuses.

Bocchini told board members all of the classroom space in the new and renovated building will be used. One of the goals of the expansion is to bring as many technical programs under one roof as possible, she said.

Some of the school’s programs are housed at the Caperton Center at West Virginia University at Parkersburg, and some are housed at Parkersburg South High School. The technical center also oversees the Options Program, which is an accelerated graduation program for students who might not otherwise complete high school.

“It would be my hope to move the Options Program into the technical center as well,” Bocchini said.

Bocchini did warn the increase in students and programs ultimately would require more personnel.

“For you to bring me new programs, you have to give me more teachers,” she said. “That’s pretty simple.”