Asbestos hits home at T.C.

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The T.C. Williams High School construction project is no longer on time, nor is it on budget. Superintendent Rebecca L. Perry informed the Alexandria School Board last Thursday that there are cost over-runs due to the need for additional asbestos removal from the old building before it can be demolished.

City Council capped the citys contribution to the project at $80.5 million when they approved the construction of a new high school in 2003. When work began, the following year, the entire budget for the project was $99 million. The project was scheduled for completion in September, 2008. This included demolition of the old building and the construction of a parking garage. This year, $1 million was added to the budget for a make-over of the athletic field and track. Artificial turf will be installed to allow the field to be used in all types of weather.

Perry said that Hensel Phelps, the general contractor for the project, did not inform her about the asbestos problem until recently. The demolition investigation revealed the presence of significant asbestos, Perry said at the meeting. The same week I was informed, I informed the chairman.

Claire Eberwein, this years School Board chairman, heard about the problem on Aug. 30, in a phone call from Perry. Mrs. Perry briefed me on Wednesday, Sept. 5, because I was out of town until just before school started, she said.

Deficit ahead
The cost of the asbestos abatement is now estimated to be $2.3 million. The T.C. budget includes $800,000 for this purpose. The construction projects contingency funds contain $500,000 that can be moved for this purpose, leaving a deficit of $1 million. Perry has asked the Board to provide an additional $1 million to replenish the contingency fund in case of other unforeseen issues.

The presence of asbestos in the old school was well known and was discussed in 2002 when Moseley Architects and DeJong and Associates, Inc., prepared a master plan study of the T.C. Williams and Minnie Howard sites. The report presented the School Board with several options related to the replacement of the high school. Asbestos abatement was included as a factor in all options.
According to the June 2002 study, this abatement would be necessary in floor tiles, ceiling tiles and miscellaneous in the old T.C. building. A more complete site analysis was done prior to the projects submission to the citys Planning and Zoning staff for review and presentation to the Planning Commission and City Council. That analysis was provided to Hensel Phelps so that they could prepare a bid on the project.

Board Member Eileen Cassidy-Rivera expressed concern for any students who may have been exposed to asbestos in the old school. Is there anything we need to look at about the children that were exposed to asbestos, she asked at the School Board meeting last Thursday.

Absolutely not, Perry said. Its a problem only when you start to do the demolition.

Board Member Scott Newsham expressed concern about the lack of notice the Board was given. Perry told them that they need to decide where the money is going to come from by next week. The reason for the haste is that renovation of the athletic field is planned to begin within days and if the Board decides to delay this project, which is budgeted at $1.08 million, school staff need to notify that contractor.

I am very concerned that we were not given more notice and time to consider all of our options, Newsham said. In all of my professional experience, this is not the way information flows. Bad news does not get better with age.

Who knew what and when?
Mark Burke, director of planning and construction for the school system said he prepared a memorandum addressed to Perry, dated Sept. 4. In that correspondence, he detailed the chain of events that brought the asbestos problem to light.

Hensel Phelps Construction Company issued a formal notification to ACPS on June 11, 2007, regarding asbestos in the old T.C. Williams H.S. building. Destructive investigation into shafts, chases, and ceilings revealed the presence of significant quantities of asbestos that were not included in the original asbestos management report. The Comprehensive Agreement for the project referenced the original asbestos management report and contractually obligated the General Contractor to remove the quantities identified in that report.

Staff authorized the contractor to make a complete survey of the building to identify all asbestos containing material & and to quantify that material for the purpose of removal and disposal. Subsequently, the report was issued by APEX Environmental on Aug. 1, 2007. The report was transmitted to ACPS and the demolition subcontractor for reference and pricing, respectively, Burke wrote.

The memo went on to say that the subcontractor provided a cost estimate and ACPS sought an outside estimate as well. After receiving proposals from a firm outside the scope of the Comprehensive Agreement, ACPS determined that Hensel Phelps had provided the best price and Burke recommended using them for the work.

A time extension to the contract will be necessary to accommodate the time expended this summer to quantify and assign costs as well as the time to actually perform the work. The request for additional time is for 77 working days. Staff believes that this is a reasonable request given the lapse of time from the notification and work days projected to perform the additional abatement.

Still waiting
Eberwein asked for the documents referenced in Burkes memo so that the Board could review them before this weeks emergency meeting. Just before press time, hours before that meeting, she had not received any documentation.
On Sept. 7, I asked staff to get those things to me immediately and I still dont have them, Eberwein said. Since the Board is ultimately responsible for making a decision about where we are going to get the additional funding, it is important for us to have all of the facts.

City staff and the mayor are aware of the problem. Sources confirmed that Perry met with City Manager Jim Hartmann on Aug. 22, and that other ACPS staff met with Assistant City Manager Mark Jinks and City Budget Director Bruce Johnson, on Aug. 31. The Board has not asked the city for additional funding to solve the current problem.

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