$7.9 million DHS wing in jeopardy of not being ready when teachers report

June 20, 2014 at 8:55 am  | Mobile Reader | Pring this storyPrint 

A long-awaited addition to Destrehan High School appears to be at least three and a half months behind its initially schedule completion date and is in danger of not being ready when faculty return from summer break in early August.

Felecia Gomez-Walker, superintendent of St. Charles Parish Public Schools, said the anticipated delay on the wing is unacceptable.

“I think that we need to be very aggressive in our approach to making sure this is going to be completed certainly by the end of July. We have teachers coming in by Aug. 4,” she said.

The $7.9 million, 48,599-square-foot wing addition, funded by a $45 million bond issue passed by voters in 2012, will replace several portable buildings currently being used as classrooms on the high school’s campus.

The project has been under construction since March 2013 and was supposed to be finished months before the beginning of the 2014-15 school year. The original completion date was April 15, but the St. Charles Parish School Board allowed the contractor, LaPlace-based Aegis Construction Inc., to extend the completion date by 79 days to July 3 without penalty. However, further delays appear to have put the completion of the wing by the upcoming school year in jeopardy.

John Rome, executive director of physical plant services, told School Board members that there are currently several aspects of the project, most notably the electrical system, that have yet to be completed.

“It’s a long list and quite frankly will they meet the July 3 date? No, just to be honest with you,” he said.  

Michael Tabb, the architect on the project employed by Destrehan-based Murray Architects, said a more realistic completion date would be around the beginning of August.

School Board member John “Jay” Robichaux said if a hurricane were to strike the area, the delay could be even longer. If Aegis does not meet the July 3 completion date, the School Board has the option of penalizing the company for each day they are late.

“There is a clause of $1,200 per day past the adjusted contract date. That is always in discussion towards the end of the job,” Rome said.

However, School Board member Ellis Alexander said $1,200 a day is very little in comparison to what Aegis will profit off the project.

“If this guy is a month late, he’ll only pay us $24,000. That is almost what he makes a day. He can be six months late before he loses any money,” he said.

School Board member John Smith said the school district should prepare to pursue a lawsuit.

“What are the things that we can do as the owner to anticipate that we will be looking for punitive damages? What are some of the things we should do so that we can begin, right now, to position ourselves so that we can prevail in any challenge that we have at a later date?” he said.

Should the building not be completed by July 3, Smith said the School Board can seek damages beyond the limit of $1,200 a day included in the contract if the delay ends up meaning the school system has to pay rental fees or increased labor costs.

The School Board toured the project site earlier this year and said they were told at that time that as the project progressed the number of workers on site would increase to meet the July 3 deadline.  

However, Robichaux said he has been by the site numerous times and has not seen an increase in the number of workers on the project.

“It’s not (heavily manned). That is the problem,” he said.

Rome said the number of electrical workers on the project, which is the biggest component not yet completed, has been consistent at four or five per day.

“Five electricians is obviously out of line. There is a need to have more electrical personnel on site,” Smith said.

Due to the delay, Rome said the removal of portable buildings at the high school has already been pushed back.

“Right now we are currently held up in getting our portables out,” he said. “We do have a plan in place to house people where they are currently situated now, but obviously we’d like to have taken the portables out by this time so we can sod and landscape the area and get ready for school.”

View other articles written Kyle Barnett

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