School board picks firm for Lafayette auxiliary gym

The auxiliary gym at Lafayette High School is one step closer to fruition.

With a unanimous vote Tuesday evening, the Williamsburg-James City County School Board agreed to pay Virtexco Corp., a Norfolk general contracting firm, $2.2 million to build the free-standing structure during the next year.

"This is a great moment for Lafayette High School that the construction of Lafayette auxiliary gym is about to start," superintendent Olwen Herron said during the meeting. "We're excited that we are at this point."

Virtexco's bid was the lowest of nine offers, according to school board documents. Associated Contracting Services, Inc. bid the highest at $2.75 million. The average was $2.45 million.

"This one was a good bid, and we're happy we got it," W-JCC facilities management coordinator Alan Robertson said. "It was just a really good bid, nothing wrong with the estimates. It was fortunate that we were able to do the alternates and we've got the extra money in there to be able to take care of any surprises."

The division budgeted $2.9 million to build the gym. Robertson said bids and budgets are rarely the same because of the time lapse between design estimates and actual construction.

He added it's always better to be under budget; the cost of materials could increase or unforeseen problems could arise.

The 10,900-square-foot gym will be connected to the main school building by a canopy and will include bleachers and a large storage room, amenities Robertson said school administrators requested specifically. The bleachers can hold up to 204 people, according to design plans provided by W-JCC.

The Virtexco bid includes plans for three items — extra basketball hoops, sound panels and LED lighting — the division requested but was willing to forgo if costs ran high.

"If there's one you could do without, you'd like it but could do without, you make it a bid alternate," Robertson said. "Instead of just two basketball nets, there will be four basketball nets across the court as well."

The project is funded in part by 2017 capital improvement spending ($1.25 million in James City County bond revenue) and a fiscal year 2016 year-end spending plan ($1.67 million), W-JCC Chief Financial Officer Christina Berta said.

'Immediate' need

The funding comes in two parts because the project couldn't wait until the 2018 capital spending plan was approved. The impending demolition of the gym at the James Blair Middle School site last summer made the gym an "immediate" need, Lafayette athletic booster President Kathy Woollum.

"This whole thing came to bear when we realized that Blair was going to be demolished," Woollum said. "That's where most of our sports teams were practicing, and there was no backup plan."

Parents and organizations have advocated for an auxiliary gym at Lafayette for years, board member Lisa Ownby (Powhatan) said. Before joining the board in January, she was one of them.

"This is a long time coming," Ownby said. "This brings equity to the scenario. We are now finally on par in terms of gym space with Jamestown and Warhill."

Equity among the three high schools was part of nearly every discussion surrounding the gym. Jamestown has a main and an auxiliary gym; Warhill has a large main gym that can be divided into separate practice spaces. Lafayette has one main gym.

Ownby said Lafayette was promised an auxiliary gym at the same time the division was building one for Jamestown more than a decade ago. Both women said they're happy the project is moving forward; Woollum added that she's still watching the progress.

"The bottom line is, like anything else, it's not over until the ribbon cutting," Woollum said. "We are really excited about this next phase and we are hopeful that design elements will reflect the specific needs of Lafayette."

Woollum plans to hold a party once the firm breaks ground on the project, which Robertson said may be as soon as next month.

What's next?

Because the gym is planned to go up between the existing building and the woods behind it, disruption will be minimal, Robertson said. The construction crew will have a separate access road and parking away from student and staff parking.

He said the division looked for a firm that had experience working on school projects while school was in session and that minimizing noise would be important, particularly during student testing.

Robertson said a pre-construction meeting is next week during which the division will work with the firm to create a timeline. He said the building is expected to be open for use by the 2018-19 school year.

"I'm expecting in July you'll start seeing them on-site and things will start happening," Robertson said.

Williams can be reached by phone at 757-345-2341.

Auxiliary Gym

Winning bid: Virtexco, $2.2. million

Average of nine bids: $2.45 million

Construction budget: $2.9 million

Gym size: 10,900 square-feet

Completion date: August 2018

Source: Williamsburg-James City County Public Schools

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