King George County officials did an instant replay, of sorts, on their decision to not pay a contractor to finish softball dugouts as part of the King George Middle School expansion.
Upon further review, they decided they had to pay the bill because, as Supervisor Richard Granger stated, it was in the best interest of the county to maintain its reputation with contractors.
Still, the decision left a bad taste for some.
“I think the county got hosed on this,” said Supervisor Jeff Stonehill, who joined the board last month. “Whoever went ahead and approved this, they should be spoken to. But at the end of the day, we have a bill we have to pay.”
The reversal is part of the ongoing drama involving the $21 million expansion of King George’s only middle school. The project includes adding a new media center, dining space, kitchen, auxiliary gym, administrative offices and more secure building entrances, as well as enough classroom space for all the county’s sixth-grade classes.
Currently, only seventh- and eighth-graders are served by the school.
Repeatedly in 2019, board members were asked to approve additional charges—or change orders—for items they believe should have been included in the original contract with Branch Builds of Roanoke.
For instance, board members were surprised in August to see a request to upgrade the existing communication system to match the new one being installed. They wondered why anyone involved with the project hadn’t thought of that before, that the two systems would have to be compatible.
They had a similar reaction in November when asked to approve the purchase of video projectors and screens for the new media center. Supervisor Cathy Binder, this year’s board chair, was irritated by the lack of what she described as fiscal responsibility.
“I remember seeing drawings for the middle-school expansion,” she said in November. “They had beautiful projectors in there. Why did they not think they might have to buy stuff that goes with them?”
But the items that irked board members the most were dugouts, which cost $37,000, for the girls’ softball team. Supervisors had been told, years ago, that volunteers would build them and had donated cinder blocks for that very purpose.
As a result, supervisors opted to remove the item from the contractor’s to-do list in an effort to enlist community support and save money.
When board members later toured the construction site and saw the dugouts being built, Binder and then-Supervisor Ruby Brabo “about had a heart attack,” Brabo said in December. She was livid that a county employee working on site with the contractors told builders to proceed with the work even though the board had decided otherwise.
And, because the construction company acted “in good faith” that it would be paid, County Administrator Neiman Young said, King George was obligated to pay the bill. He broke the news to supervisors in December, but they drew a line in the sand and voted to approve every change order presented to them except the one for the dugouts.
On Tuesday, Young brought the matter up again and said the bill needed to be approved so work could progress.
Supervisor Annie Cupka, who defeated Brabo in the November election, said it was unfortunate how the matter played out.
“Someone in Dr. Young’s chain of command authorized something that should not have been authorized, but that’s for him to deal with,” Cupka said. “At the end of the day, who suffers if we don’t do this? Twelve- and 13-year-old girls who play softball, as well as teams who come here and wonder what kind of place it is, that the girl’s softball team doesn’t have dugouts, but the boys’ baseball team does.”
Change orders are covered by contingency funds, which are standard in construction contracts. Builders typically budget 5 percent to 10 percent of their total cost to cover any unexpected expenses. Because of other expenses, King George had to lower its contingency fund to 3.2 percent of the middle-school expansion project, or $680,000.
Young told supervisors in December that the project has used half of the contingency funds allotted. The project is expected to be finished this fall.