ACCOKEEK – The Accokeek Academy renovation project is still under construction, two months after it was projected to open. The delay, paired with ongoing HVAC problems in the previously completed building, is causing some headaches for parents and staff. On Wednesday, Sept. 30, the Accokeek Academy PTSA hosted Sean Nickols from the Prince George’s County […]
ACCOKEEK – The Accokeek Academy renovation project is still under construction, two months after it was projected to open. The delay, paired with ongoing HVAC problems in the previously completed building, is causing some headaches for parents and staff.
On Wednesday, Sept. 30, the Accokeek Academy PTSA hosted Sean Nickols from the Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) Department of Capital Programs to talk to the parents about the renovations and what to expect in the coming year. Nickols address both the delay in renovation and the ongoing HVAC problems the school has. Nickols is the project manager for both building projects.
“We have had various updates,” said the school’s principal, Judy Adams. “As we move closer to the conclusion to the renovation of the middle school, we thought it was a good time for us to have capital improvement programs come and speak to us about the progress and where were are.”
Accokeek Academy, which was formerly Henry Ferguson Elementary School and Eugene Burroughs Middle School, began construction on the new building in 2012 and was completed in 2014. The total budget for the new construction was over $26 million, according to PGCPS, who hired multiple contractors to complete the renovation of the old Henry Ferguson school. The school building is under renovation, but was supposed to open August of this school year.
“We’re approximately 70 percent complete with construction. As you can see, construction is still going on,” Nickols said. “We have endured some major delays.”
Nickols said he would not make any excuses for the delay, but cited unforeseen circumstances as reasons for the delay. He said rusted beams, undocumented previous construction, and sub-contractors going out of business all forced the project to delay.
“Because of the fact that this is a renovation, it comes with the territory. I would say it is expected. You know, any time we open up an old wall that has been there since 1960, we are bound to see something we didn’t think would have been behind the wall or might not have been shown in a plan from 1960,” he said.
The new goal is to open the renovated building to students and staff in August of 2016, a year after the original set date. To make sure the contractors and PGCPS make this deadline, the school system’s capital improvements department has hired a consultant to analyze and adjust time management on the project.
“We’re having bi-weekly meetings, not only with our contractor, but with our consultant as well, to try to figure out how we can rephrase the work, where we need to potentially bring on more man power, where we may need to work weekends, etcetera to figure out how we can mitigate the issues that we have,” Nickols said.
Tamara Caldwell, the president of the Accokeek Academy PTSA, knows parents and students are frustrated with all the delays. She said the sixth to eighth grade students are out in portable classrooms awaiting the move to the renovated building.
She said as a parent of an 8th grade student, she and her son expect his last year at the academy to have classes in an upgraded building, instead they continued in the portables.
“That’s pretty disappointing, because the 8th graders this year were really looking forward to the move. They were told they were going to move into the school and they would be the first ‘seniors’ that take the school out,” Caldwell said.
Parents also expressed concern over the continued problems with the school’s HVAC. Tommi Makila, the former PTSA president and current Prince George’s County PTA Council delegate, said he was made aware of the problem numerous times over the past two years. He brought the problem to the Prince George’s County Board of Education in June, but said the problem is still not fixed.
“We’re talking nearly two years since the school was finished and occupied,” he said. “It should be fixed and the school system should have enough leverage to force the people to finish it.”
Nickols said the school system is doing everything it can to get the system working properly. He said the continued problems are “unacceptable” and are the full responsibility of Hess Construction.
“What we are dealing with is a building that has reached ‘substantial completion’ so the construction, as a contractor, I’ve diverted all my attention and all my resources to a building to get it to a certain point. Once I get it to that certain point, I start pulling off some of my key players so I can continue to make money as a construction company,” Nickols said.
The current situation with the HVAC, Nickols said, is because the construction company is no longer on site and therefore cannot fix the problem immediately. He said the school system is considering legal action and has sought legal counsel to ‘push’ the contractor to get it done.
“It is unacceptable, but we are working through it right now. My plan is to have it complete. I would say, within the next four to five months,” he said.
Makila said he is unhappy it will take another four to five months to fix the problem, but was grateful for Nickols’ honestly.
Caldwell said the HVAC system issues are not the end of the world for her, but she understands the disappointment in the issues continuing.
“I just think some parents get frustrated that they look at a new school, everything should be up to par and it’s not yet, but we’re getting there,” Caldwell said.
As the project moves forward, Makila said he will continue to keep an eye on the progress. He said if the renovation is not completed by 2016, PGCPS is going to have to answer a lot of questions and take a hard look at its process. With all the renovations and school replacements slated in the upcoming years through PGCPS, these delays and problems are a bad sign of what’s to come.
“If people were really doing their jobs, it would have been taken care of,” Makila said. “If this is the way we oversee the project, it’s worrisome and someone needs to take a serious look.”