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Renovation work is on hold at Culpeper High School.
FILE/THE FREE LANCE-STAR
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BY DONNIE JOHNSTON
THE FREE LANCE-STAR
Hunter Spencer, who is construction projects manager for Culpeper County public schools, summed up the Culpeper High School renovation project situation in the following way:
"I have never, in all my years in the architectural business, run into a problem like this."
The fate of a project that involved seven School Board members, seven Board of Supervisors members, a 17-member oversight committee and 10,000 voters will soon be in the hands of a circuit court judge. The story reads like this:
After Eastern View High School opened five years ago, renovating Culpeper High, which began operation in the fall of 1969, became one of the School Board's top priorities.
Fifteen months ago, Culpeper voters approved a $21 million bond referendum that provided funds to update the infrastructure of a building so antiquated that its electrical system sometimes failed when a coffee-maker and a copier were used at the same time in the same office.
After careful architectural consideration to every upgrade necessary, construction bids were put out last August. One hall, stripped down during the summer, sat ready for plumbers, electricians and other subcontractors to begin work in early October.
The 10 rooms along that hall are still stripped down, but no workmen have ever shown up. The wait has been long and the need for classroom space so desperate that several teachers have moved back into the rooms despite their condition.
The initial bids, presented to the School Board in mid-September, exceeded the money available, so the bidding process began again and the start of construction work was pushed ahead to December.
In early December, the School Board selected Taft Construction's bid of $17.87 million from the seven new bidders, even though Neilson Construction's base bid (not counting alternates) was about $200,000 less. According to Spencer, with selected alternates, Taft's bid was $27,000 cheaper.
Neilson immediately protested the School Board's decision while that body was formally awarding the contract to Taft. When the School Board rejected the protest, Neilson decided to sue and allow a circuit court judge to settle the matter.
The legal process, according to Spencer, has slowed to a crawl because of a crowded court docket. It seems that it will be at least mid-March before a hearing date can be set.