June 27, 2016

Partly sunny

Delays plague Elyria High project

ELYRIA — The second phase of the Elyria High School construction project is behind schedule and various portions of the building will not be open when students return Sept. 6.

Workers use a lift bucket Wednesday to inspect the exterior  of the Elyria High School Washington Building in Elyria. (CT photo by Bruce Bishop.)

Workers use a lift bucket Wednesday to inspect the exterior of the Elyria High School Washington Building in Elyria. (CT photo by Bruce Bishop.)

The gym isn’t done. When school resumes, the cafeteria will be a dining-only facility because the kitchen isn’t completed. Gym classes will be postponed until at least the second quarter. And volleyball games once again will be played at the Administration Building on Griswold Road.

“The building is not where we want to be, but I like to ask people, ‘What’s more important — getting it done or getting it right?’ ” Elyria Schools Superintendent Paul Rigda said.

The second and third floors of the renovated Washington Building are near completion and set to open on time. The space will add 17 additional classrooms to the building. In addition, the first-floor rathskellar — a sort of student union for seniors that will be more of a meeting place than cafeteria — is set to open when classes resume. Located in the Washington Building, the space transforms what used to be useless catacombs into a college-like lounge for older students.

Kevin Wise, construction operations manager with Regency Construction, said the delays have been nearly all weather-related with a snowy winter and rainy spring making the ground too wet to work with.

As a result, the construction calendar got pushed back six to eight weeks.

“We are making up as much ground as we can, but there are still some areas that have to just wait,” Wise said. “You have to pace the work so one area of work can be started when another ends.”

The new timetable has the kitchen and food preparation areas opening in mid-October and the athletic complex opening the first of November — in time for basketball season. Most grand opening events will be postponed until spring 2012 to give crews time to finish.

“We are putting all efforts into getting all the other areas that are directly related to student instruction done,” said Rich Nielson, the district’s business services director. “The weight room, wrestling room and gym may not open until November, but the extra classrooms will be a huge relief from where we were last year with two and three teachers sharing a classroom.”

Nielson said there will be some additional costs for the delays, but no dollar amount is available. A contingency fund for such cost overruns has been in place since the start of the project.

Rigda said the overrun amount should be no more than $500,000, which is much less than the money in the contingency fund. Much of the overrun stemmed from the replacement of a roofing contractor, which occurred after a dispute about the work.

The announcement of delays comes when the district is deciding whether to seek a bond issue in November to partially fund an $84 million project to build five new elementary schools.

Rigda said the delays are not a sign that the district cannot handle large construction projects. Instead, the beauty of Elyria High illustrates the exact opposite, he said.

“The magnitude of this project is huge,” he said. “We did not build on green space, which will likely be the case with the elementary schools. We built on an existing site while 2,000 students attended class around the construction and increased the site to two city blocks at the same time. If we can do this and have it all done seemingly by November — six weeks after we were supposed to open — surely we can build a handful of elementary schools.”

New Principal Tom Jama said he is in awe of the building.

“This is not a school,’’ Jama said. “This is a campus, and you see that with every phase that opens.”

Contact Lisa Roberson at 329-7121 or lroberson@chroniclet.com.

About Lisa Roberson

Lisa Roberson has been with the Chronicle since 2006, and covers Elyria city government and public education. She can be reached at 329-7121 or LRoberson@chroniclet.com. Follow her on Twitter.