published Tuesday, September 4th, 2012

Pisgah High School gym project back on track after tornado damage

  • photo
    Repair work at the Pisgah High School Gymnasium should resume in the next few days after state officials issued a stop work order in June because the project was not approved by the Alabama Building Commission.
    Photo by Ben Benton /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

PISGAH, Ala. -- Cooley Gymnasium at Pisgah High School is still partially unusable in the wake of April 2011 tornado damage and efforts to repair it have been called illegal under Alabama building laws.

But that could begin to change in the next few days, according to Jackson County school officials.

Superintendent Ken Harding said Wednesday that work started initially on unapproved plans is now back on track.

"The architect's been there and the scope of work has been bid out," Harding said. "Contracts are just waiting to be signed and work should start anytime."

Jackson County Board of Education attorney John Porter said construction plans under the new contract awarded last week are now approved by the Alabama Building Commission so work on the remainder of the project can resume.

The Building Commission's stop-work order on the project June 8 left the project in limbo while officials dealt with the snafu.

Damage to the Cooley Gym in April 2011 prompted school board members to declare the gym damage an "emergency," which led Harding to believe "that the repairs to the gym could begin without going through all of the steps required by the bid law and further approval by the board," he said in a statement published in the Daily Sentinel newspaper in Scottsboro, Ala.

Harding moved ahead with construction contracts in violation of state bidding laws that require state approval of plans, Porter said.

"Now they have reviewed the plans, OK'd the plans and given their approval," Porter said.

Harding said Wednesday he didn't want to expand on his public statement in which he said he met several times with Federal Emergency Management Agency officials who proposed the school system repair only the hole in the gym's roof.

"In reviewing the overall project, I felt that while the gym was being repaired and workers were already present, it would be a great time to do some other things that would restore the Cooley Gym to its better days," Harding stated. "From March until May 2012, contracts for additional repairs and remodeling at the Cooley Gym were also let for resurfacing the playing surface of the basketball court, restoration of the old windows, repairs to the stage, electrical work and plumbing upgrades."

The new contract "is for ongoing work in the future, not for past work," Porter said.

Board of education members this month retroactively disapproved two checks cut on the project in July for $4,580 in plumbing work and $63,206.80 for construction work.

Porter issued a statement on behalf of the board stating that in retroactively disapproving the checks, "the board insulated themselves, to some degree, if it turns out that those contractors should not have been paid according to the bid law."

The contractors have already been paid for the work, Porter said Wednesday. There has been no discussion about how the previous contracts and payments will be handled in the future, he said.

"We hope to get the project finished as soon as we can so they can use the gym again and it'll be safe and sound," Porter said.

Contact staff writer Ben Benton at bbenton@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6569. Subscribe to his Facebook posts at facebook.com/ben.benton1 and follow him at twitter.com/BenBenton on Twitter.

about Ben Benton...

Ben Benton is a news reporter at the Chattanooga Times Free Press. He covers Southeast Tennessee and previously covered North Georgia education. Ben has worked at the Times Free Press since November 2005, first covering Bledsoe and Sequatchie counties and later adding Marion, Grundy and other counties in the northern and western edges of the region to his coverage. He was born and raised in Cleveland, Tenn., a graduate of Bradley Central High School. Benton ...

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