Kingsport may withhold $150,000 from Adams school contractor

Rick Wagner • Nov 24, 2009 at 12:00 AM

KINGSPORT — Kingsport school officials are looking at the possibility of permanently withholding about $150,000 in payments from the contractor who built the new John Adams Elementary School.

However, the founder and head of J.A. Street and Associates said everything will be worked out without such draconian financial moves.

Meanwhile, the school system is running about $100,000 short on its new phone system because the original $350,000 estimate didn’t include about 50 switches required for the system.

Kingsport City Schools Finance Director David Frye and Kingsport Board of Education members said J.A. Street Construction, based in Blountville, still has not been paid about $200,000 for finishing up the project, and upwards of $150,000 could be designated liquidated damages for not meeting deadlines to fix “punch card” items that need to be rectified and other construction items never completed or addressed.

An e-mail from KCS facilities representative Rick Russell outlines various unfinished items or those needing repair.

“The city’s OK. I’ve talked with Sandy (Crawford), the purchasing agent,” Jim Street said Friday morning. “It can be worked out. We’ll work it out.”

However, Mayor Dennis Phillips on Monday said the city does have an issue, as far as he’s concerned.

“Until that punch list is signed off, as far as I’ve concerned we have a big problem with it,” Phillips said.

“It’s the city’s responsibility to accept the building. I don’t think the Board of Mayor and Aldermen had any idea about the problems,” Phillips said. “We need to make this a priority to get it fixed.”

Frye said both sides have agreed that some items will be taken care of during the winter break, when students and teachers are out of the school, but that other items need to be taken care of now and are overdue.

Many of the items on the list include replacing light covers or light fixtures, although the kitchen drains have been an ongoing issue at the school off Rock Springs Road.

The two-page e-mail and Street indicated those included drain issues in the kitchen, with the rest being a wide variety of items throughout the building.

“You’re probably getting close to $150,000,” Frye told the BOE during an almost four-hour work session Thursday night.

However, Street said much of the rest of the issues are control systems for the heating and cooling system, which he said likely won’t be fully ironed out until the facility has undergone a full 12 months of use.

“I’ve been told we have some air conditioning control problems,” Street said of the building, which was a more than $14 million construction project on land donated to the city and topped $17 million when furnishings and equipment were purchased.

BOE President Susan Lodal said city officials are aware school officials are concerned that items supposed to be taken care of in August or since have not been addressed.

“I think we just need to be more specific than just saying we’re concerned about it,” BOE member Cheryl Harvey said.

Superintendent Richard Kitzmiller said that sometime the week of Dec. 1, Russell and city procurement department head Sandy Crawford are to meet with the contractor to determine how to proceed.

Under the contract, Frye said a change order would be drawn up by the architect to spell out an amount to be withheld for the late work, and the school system, city and contractor would sign off on the change order.

The board requested the matter be added to its Dec. 3 agenda.

Also at the work session, Frye and John Payne of the technology staff explained that the original proposals for the phone system did not include switches needed to connect the main school phone system at Dobyns-Bennett High School to other schools and provide about 1,800 connection points.

Frye and Payne said it was an oversight no one in the system nor those who responded to requests for proposals caught. To save money, Payne said the plans are to use 1 gigabyte switches instead of 10 gigabyte switches for most of the 50 switches, saving an estimated $30,000 but still allowing for an upgrade to the faster switches later if needed.

Frye said the recommendation — to go before the board Dec. 3 — would be to continue with phase two at $230,000, do phase three at $75,000, and then do as much of phase four at $140,000 as possible.

Phase one, the phone system for Adams, was $5,000. Phase two is D-B, Kennedy Elementary, Roosevelt Elementary, New Horizons, the Palmer Center, Midland Center, Highland Park Center and maintenance, while phase three is Robinson and Sevier middle schools.

In phase four — Jackson, Jefferson, Johnson, Lincoln and Washington elementary schools — Frye suggested doing as many as funding would allow and then looking for funding in a future budget.

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