ABSS, ACC making progress on new school logistics

Alamance County leaders are considering their options in constructing a new high school with part of the $190 million in bond referendum money that county voters approved last fall. It will take approximately $60 million to build the new high school, and county officials are actively involved in the process of identifying potential sites for the new school. The county is focusing in on a few sites around the geographic midpoint between Eastern Alamance and South Alamance High Schools along N.C. Highway 119 near Swepsonville, a few miles to the immediate south of Mebane.

On Wednesday morning, the five sitting members of the Alamance County Commissioners met with members of the Alamance-Burlington School System’s Board of Education and officials from Alamance Community College. The elected officials came together at the Annex Office Building in downtown Graham to discuss their options as they prepare to distribute nearly $190 million dollars for a wide range of projects related to the passage of last fall’s school bond referendums for new construction and renovations within ABSS and ACC.

Kennon Briggs, the Chair of the Board of Trustees at the University of North Carolina at Asheville and a Higher Education Consultant, presented to the local Alamance County officials a series of possible construction delivery models, which is intended to help the county choose the right construction methods for these various school bond projects. Briggs congratulated Alamance County for its decision to provide these substantial resources to enhance its local community college and public school systems. 

Approximately $70 million of the bond money - more than a third of the entire bond amount - is earmarked for a new high school that will pull students from Eastern Alamance and Southern Alamance High Schools to create a seventh public high school within the ABSS umbrella. 

“It takes strong leadership to put such a measure on the ballot. It also takes strong leadership from the two educational leaders in the county,” Briggs told the County Commissioners and ABSS board members. “From what I know, the (local) business community worked very hard in support of this measure.” 

A source close to ABSS informed the Enterprise at the joint meeting that while there’s still no exact location for the new high school, county leaders are specifically exploring areas close to the geographic midpoint of Eastern Alamance and Southern Alamance High Schools. 

Those two schools are approximately 13 miles apart, and the approximate midpoint along the quickest route between the schools is an area south of the I-40/I-85 corridor, between Hawfields and Swepsonville along N.C. Highway 119. Local officials remain optimistic that the new high school will be ready in four years, in time to accept students for the 2023-2024 school year. 

Contractors working on behalf of the county to locate a new school site have identified a few serious possibilities, including a 90-plus acre site in Swepsonville near the Honda plant, along with a smaller tract farther north up N.C. Highway 119, closer to the Hawfields area. No site has been officially determined as of yet, and none of the properties in question are currently for sale. 

For the bond’s biggest projects, such as the new high school in the Mebane/Swepsonville area, Briggs recommended a building process known as Construction Manager at Risk. The consultant explained that under a Construction Manager at Risk format, the county would hire a Construction Management service, who would serve as an overall supervisor of the project while guaranteeing a certain final end price for the work. 

“In that process of engagement, you’re looking to the Construction Manager, who will ultimately be responsible for delivering your project,” Briggs told the elected officials. “You do all the work on the front end, so there’s no surprises on the back end.” 

The Construction Manager doesn’t complete the actual construction, but assists in recommending and recruiting firms to complete the work, while ensuring that all of the intricate details of the project are brought together by one supervisory body. Alamance Community College used this particular building method for its Applied Advanced Technology Center, which opened in October of 2017. 

Briggs indicated that the Construction Manager at Risk method was a growing industry standard in secondary education, used in both the UNC University System, as well as the North Carolina’s Community College System. 

“It does speed up the project,” Briggs added. “You’re not waiting. You have that upfront design engineering work done. The Construction Manager can get that guaranteed price for you. The Construction Manager at Risk that do business in North Carolina, they know the best contractors in the market. They go out and recruit them. They invite those people to bid, if you will. It’s transparent. Their fees are upfront and contracted. It’s all out in the open.”

“If the bid packages come out higher than expected, they have to get the price down. They have some skin in the game to get that guaranteed price,” Briggs continued. “They hold everyone accountable. They give you a price on the front end. The more conversation ahead of time, the more value for the owner in terms of project cost.”  

“You have a larger firm that has staff to handle HVAC, electrical, and plumbing. They understand it. And they can find the people in those various trades,” added County Commissioner Eddie Boswell. 

Along with recommending the Construction Manager at Risk method for the larger projects, Briggs recommended hiring a firm rather than a single individual to oversee the work being done. The county has already hired a Project Manager to oversee the various components of the bond, separate from any future Construction Manager, and is also in the process of advertising for prospective developers of the new high school under a Construction Manager at Risk format. 

“I think a company is better,” Briggs said. “And I’m talking about on any capital project. I think the delivery model Construction Manager at Risk would be a firm - a company. They’re not allowed to do the actual construction. There are firms that have done the construction, who understand it, who become Construction Managers.”