For the second month in a row, members of the King George Board of Supervisors were rankled by contractors renovating King George Middle School who said they need more money to get rid of asbestos in old parts of the school.
But they weren’t the only ones surprised by the level of cancer-causing materials in the facility, built in 1968. Adam Vogel, project manager and construction contract administrator with RRMM Architects, said his company reviewed previous studies done by the school system, which apparently didn’t tell the whole story.
He cited a 2014 survey, done as part of the Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act, which said there was asbestos only in the floor tiles of the auditorium and possibly in panels of the old bus loop canopy.
But as contractors proceeded, they found asbestos in the ceiling at the joints of water pipes and in the sealants around ductwork. There also was asbestos in the floor tile, which had been covered by newer tile, Vogel said.
“These concealed asbestos-containing materials existed throughout the whole school,” Vogel stated in an email.
However, the asbestos that was found was “encapsulated and not in a condition that would present a hazard,” said School Superintendent Rob Benson, who has attended meetings about construction updates.
Supervisors agreed to pay both change orders submitted for asbestos abatement, which have totaled $136,741 to date. They also learned there will be at least one more bill coming associated with asbestos removal, but Vogel said he believes he can finish the project under budget.
As members of the Board of Supervisors have done repeatedly for the last six months, they made it clear they’re tired of the ongoing charge orders that have been part of the $21 million expansion.
“I have zero appetite to throw any more money” into the project, Supervisor Jeff Bueche said, adding how concerned he is that builders will come across more unexpected issues before the renovation is complete. “I think we’re going to find ourselves falling short with funding.”
There’s $24,000 left in the contingency fund, which started at $680,000. Such funds are built into construction projects for unforeseen items that can crop up, especially in renovations, or to cover charges for materials and services that have gone up since the work began.
Some of the change orders fit that bill. Others pertained to equipment needed in new rooms—such as projectors and screens for the new media center—that Supervisor Chairwoman Cathy Binder believes should have been included in the cost of furniture, not added on as part of the contingency fund.
She also has been vocal about why any contractor was surprised to find asbestos in a facility built more than 50 years ago. From the 1920s to the mid-1980s, builders used tons of the material in drywall, insulation, shingles and floor tiles and to wrap around pipes and cover ducts, according to the Mesothelioma Justice Network.
The material was considered safe, durable and cost-effective—until it was discovered that its fibers cause several types of cancer.
Binder stressed again last week that she’d like to see an environmental study done any time the county plans work in an older building. County Administrator Neiman Young pointed out that King George did have such a report done on its middle school, but it didn’t reveal all the places that had asbestos.
The report also recommended inspections every six months to document the condition of asbestos-containing materials; a notebook detailing the plan; and an annual letter to parents, staff and any contractors working in the building about the presence of asbestos and “that the school has an operations and maintenance plan to control the hazards,” according to the report done by Work Environment Associates of Richmond.
Benson said the school system has followed the listed recommendations and has had the same company continue its inspection of the school every three years.
King George is renovating the county’s only middle school to provide classroom space for all sixth-graders, which in turn will free up room in the county’s three elementary schools, which were nearing capacity in spring 2018. The project is adding a new media center, dining space, kitchen, auxiliary gym, administrative offices and more secure building entrances.
The contractors expected to finish by mid-November but have been able to do more work because schools shut down in March. Vogel said most of the building will be ready for occupation when teachers return in early August.