Hardy groundbreaking delayed

Published 4:52 pm Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Estimated cost rises to $34M

Construction of a new school intended to replace Isle of Wight County’s 1960s-era Hardy Elementary has again been delayed, this time to October.

Last December, school officials anticipated breaking ground on the new school in March of this year. When March came, the groundbreaking was moved to June. Now, according to Isle of Wight County Schools spokeswoman Lynn Briggs, the school division doesn’t expect to have the necessary permits until September.

“We might get lucky and be able to start earlier, but October is most likely,” she said.

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Of more immediate concern to the division and Isle of Wight County’s Board of Supervisors is the project’s estimated $34 million price tag.

The county borrowed just over $34 million last fall, intending to use roughly $27 for the new Hardy. The remainder was to go toward other capital needs — and some already has. In April county officials signed a contract pledging $1.8 million of the non-Hardy portion of the loan money toward the purchase of two new fire trucks for the Smithfield Volunteer Fire Department.

The $34 million price tag isn’t final, but rather an estimate the Hardy project’s general contractor, M.B. Kahn Construction, shared with the county’s New Hardy Elementary Construction Committee in light of the rising cost of building materials seen nationwide in recent months. In some cases, lumber prices have tripled since 2020.

Kahn will present school and county officials with a 65% design estimate this week, but won’t have a guaranteed maximum price until the design work is 95% complete, assuming no adjustments are made at that time.

The $34 million also doesn’t include the cost of buying the school’s water supply from the town of Smithfield, an expense that’s also on the rise. Last fall, county officials estimated the water cost at $2.2 million, but now that a larger water tower is needed, are projecting the cost to nearly double to $4.29 million.

According to Briggs, no changes to the project in light of the rising costs have been finalized, but the school division is looking into alternative materials to reduce the construction cost, such as using vinyl instead of terrazzo tiles.

County and school officials are also planning to reuse some of the existing chain link fencing around the current school once the new one is built on adjacent land, and add black vinyl fencing around portions of the school that will be visible from Old Stage Highway. They estimated fencing costs would run about $50,000 higher if an aluminum fence modeled to look like wrought iron were to be used instead.

To obtain permission for the cost-cutting measure, school officials had to apply for an exception to Isle of Wight’s highway corridor overlay district regulations, which the county’s staff and Planning Commission both recommended be denied “in favor of a fencing style more compatible with the enhanced design standards found elsewhere in the district.”

But Isle of Wight’s Board of Supervisors overruled them on June 10 in a 3-2 vote to allow the school system to proceed with the chainlink option.

“At our last meeting and discussions we were struggling to take $25,000 cuts out of the budget,” said Board of Supervisors Chairman Dick Grice, who serves as one of the members of the New Hardy Elementary Construction Committee. “Here we would add $50,000? I’m sorry, I’m in full support of the black vinyl fence.”

“To me it’s almost a no-brainer,” Carrsville District Supervisor Don Rosie agreed.

The dissenting votes on the matter came from Newport District Supervisor William McCarty and Hardy District Supervisor Rudolph Jefferson.

“There’s been major concerns about chain link fence around solar farms … we don’t want to invite that same problem back to the school system,” Jefferson said.