By Gary Gray
A $9.8 million proposal by BurWil Construction Company to build Liberty Bell’s new gymnasium and cafeteria was pulled from last week’s Johnson City Commission meeting agenda, but its absence may prove worth the wait as ongoing negotiations appear to be lowering the price tag.
“We were really pushing hard to get it on this agenda,” City Manager Pete Peterson told The News & Neighbor the day after the meeting. “But between Monday’s agenda meeting and Wednesday, we saw that we were able to get some price out of it (reduced amount), and the contracts weren’t really going to be complete until Thursday, which would not have given everybody a chance to look at it.
“It was just an opportunity to tone things down a little bit and make sure we had everything we needed in the contracts. We are getting the price down, and we’re continuing to go through the project and make sure it’s as cost effective as possible. We shouldn’t have rushed so fast.”
Bids on the new cafeteria and gym were opened May 10. Three bids were reviewed: BurWil, GoinsRashCain Inc and Armstrong Construction. An evaluation committee ranked the bidders and decided BurWil was the best qualified for the job.
When and if approved, the company will serve as the general contractor and provide consulting, scheduling and cost-estimating services. BurWil also would competitively procure and contract with trade specialists and subcontractors and assume responsibility for delivery of the project under schedules terms.
As of early this year, the city had $8.5 million allocated in its capital project fund for the project.
Liberty Bell students have had no choice for years but to walk to Freedom Hall Civic Center to use its gymnasium and cafeteria. Concerns have included safety and that some students may not be getting to the cafeteria for morning meals.
A roughly 39,000-square-foot project came into clear view for the Johnson City Schools Facilities Committee late last year after nearly a decade of work, planning and anticipation. School and city officials originally hoped the project would get started in June or July, but it now looks like that will be pushed back to September or October, according to Peterson.
The city contracted with Shaw & Shanks Architects last spring to begin designing the new additions for Liberty Bell Middle School, and later designated Tommy Burleson (Burleson Construction) as the project’s construction manager.
The design includes a gymnasium that seats about 1,300 and a large cafeteria complete with the latest kitchen equipment and furnishings. The cafeteria will accommodate about 350 students — 100 spaces more than what is currently available.
Much-needed locker room expansion also is a big factor within the project. The new gym would incorporate three, 15-locker locker rooms and one 40-locker locker room for physical education.
Approval of the construction contract should move the next school system priority to the forefront: The reconfiguration of Liberty Bell and Indian Trail into two new grade 5-8 middle schools in 2021.
City school board members voted unanimously last year to continue studying a proposed transition from the school system’s current configuration. Superintendent of Schools Steve Barnett recommended the school system begin exploring the transition process last August at the Board of Education’s annual retreat.
The two proposed middle schools serving grades 5-8 in Johnson City will offer a unique opportunity to expand and enhance the academic and related arts offerings at both schools, according to a recent study.
By housing middle grades, the schools will provide staff with greater flexibility and innovation to develop age-appropriate offerings that will build on the well-rounded foundation provided by Johnson City Schools’ eight elementary schools and prepare students for the college and career preparatory education provided at Science Hill High School.
The proposed elementary school feeders for Indian Trail are Fairmont, Lake Ridge and Mountain View. The proposed feeders for Liberty Bell include Cherokee, Northside, South Side, Woodland and Towne Acres.