DOBSON — Surry County Schools has put one special project on the back burner in order to take care of an urgent need at a middle school.
The county Board of Education back in the spring discussed some capital projects, including upgrading camera equipment on school buses. Some of those cameras are several years old, have failing components and were made at a time when digital images weren’t very sharp and detailed.
The school board had given the green light to replacing the equipment, but now that has been put on hold because of a need to fix an HVAC system at Central Middle School, noted Dr. Travis Reeves, school superintendent.
Central Middle is big enough to need two chiller units to service the building, Reeves said, and this semester one of the units began operating at less than full capacity.
These units were put in when the school was under construction in 1989-90 and are 27.5 years old now, according to the superintendent.
The project was put out for bids, and the three bids (all from local companies, he noted) were one of the closest that he’s seen, said Reeves.
The winning bid for about $67,000 came Stanley Heating & Air, of Elkin, said Robert Draughn, director of plant operations. All three of the contractors have worked with us in the past, he said.
Another bid came up at this week’s commissioners’ meeting.
In August, the school system received a couple of bids for work at the bus garage in Dobson. The issue came before the Board of Commissioners in September, but the elected officials requested more information from the schools at that time.
Reeves said the garage has two gas storage tanks on site that haven’t been operational since school began in the summer.
There hasn’t been a leakage, he was quick to add, but an internal sensor detected when a piece of equipment went foul.
The schools received bids from two contractors, but the commissioners recommended a third company to contact as well, Reeves said. When Draughn, reached out to Hardin’s Pump and Compressor, the company said it didn’t work on underground tanks anymore. It referred Draughn to Petroserve Inc.
In an email to the county manager’s office, Reeves said, “You will see that Petroserve’s quote is a little higher than the others. However, Robert Draughn was very impressed with the knowledge base of this company and their recommendations to make sure we were up to date on regulations.”
When asked about this on Wednesday, Reeves added that sometimes it isn’t about getting the cheapest price, but finding the most responsible bidder, and the district liked Petroserve.
Draughn said the first two bids came in during August, then by the time he was ready to get a bid from Petroserve in mid-September, the rules had changed.
He said he received a regulation update from the state that gives him until Oct. 1, 2018, to be in compliance on a number of things, some of which are included in this fuel system.
Rather than do one project now, then schedule another work session later to upgrade things to meet the standards, it makes sense to do both things at one time, said Draughn. It’s less expensive to do all the work at once.
So when Petroserve made its bid at the end of September, the number was noticeably higher than the other two for a reason – it included more work, he explained.
Spatco Petroleum Solutions, of Charlotte was the low bid at $47,760.
Collins Petroleum and Electrical, of Lewisville, was second at $54,650.
Petroserve, out of Stokesdale, came in with a bid of $59,145.
The county commissioners didn’t get to hear Draughn’s explanation because he was at that very time at Rockford Elementary School talking to the school board about the Central Middle chiller project. They didn’t know that Petroserve was offering to do more work.
The consensus among the commissioners appeared to be that taking sealed bids is a time-honored way of doing business and not honoring the low bidder harms that process.
Commissioner Buck Golding suggested that the county board fund half of Spatco’s low bid. If the school district chooses a different company, then the school board can pay the difference in cost.
The other commissioners agreed and voted unanimously in favor of approving $23,880.
No matter which company is chosen, it will be a long time before any work can be done, said Draughn. When first contacted months ago, all three companies said they were lined up on projects for six months already. That means it could be next summer before anything is done at the garage.
Right now, things are quite challenging because every vehicle in the county school system is trying to fuel up through the maintenance office pump, which has a much smaller system, he said. So, the office is constantly bringing in tankers of gas to keep up with the demand.
Both the underground tanks and the chiller replacement were part of the study done by Bill Powell a few years ago, said Reeves. Powell recommended work on these and other needs proactively rather than waiting for a problem to arise.
These needs are part of the reasons that his district has been asking for more money for capital needs each year because it knows these issues are going to come up.
For the 2017-18 budget, the three school districts in the county asked the commissioners for an increase in capital spending from $110 per pupil to $150.
Commissioner Van Tucker pointed out that the county is looking to borrow $30 million to fund capital needs for the schools, so he wasn’t prepared to vote for extra funding right now. The other commissioners agreed and voted to keep the capital spending at $110.
Because Surry County Schools had a decrease of about 200 children, this per-pupil allotment meant that the district actually is receiving less money in this fiscal year than in 2016-17 in regular capital funds.
Reach Jeff at 415-4692.