Weather delays have slowed construction of Dibrell School expansion to the point the project may not be completed until October.
With the school year set to begin Aug. 15, the School Board is scrambling to find space to house students at the beginning of the year should Dibrell School not be available.
Alternatives include holding school for two weeks at the local Motlow campus and Warren County Middle School, or as a last resort, farming some grades out to other schools.
The problems were magnified last week when the state fire marshal declined to approve a temporary certificate of occupancy for the facility.
Architect Paul McCall, of Cockrill Design & Planning, said local state fire marshal Paul Dixon opted not to grant the certificate of occupancy on Thursday.
“From his perspective, he doesn’t want to take any responsibility for putting teachers or kids in harm’s way and I understand that,” said McCall.
The decision also affects food services since there could be a completed kitchen, but no seating available.
“One thing that was brought up is if we have a completed kitchen and the cafeteria workers can have access to that kitchen they can prepare meals,” McCall said. “Teachers and children will not go into the cafeteria, but at least the food will be prepared there and then taken to classrooms wherever a temporary setup could be made, in the gym or whatever.”
This brought a comment from Director of Schools Dr. Jerry Hale.
“We could satellite the food if we have to,” Hale said. “We could truck it in.”
School officials say their Plan A is to get the existing facility – not the expansion – completed to the point where classes could be held Aug. 15. But if Midstate Construction can’t make that happen, officials are getting other options in place.
Having the project finished by October is within the limits of Midstate Construction’s contract with bad weather days taken into account.
“The goal is Plan A, getting the existing part they’re working on now where we can house kids, serve lunch, not in the cafeteria, but food prepped ready so we can have lunch somewhere or truck it in,” said assistant director Bobby Cox. “Plan B, I’ve contacted Melody Edmonds at Motlow and we can have their building for two weeks, the week of Aug. 15 and the week of Aug. 22. They start classes Aug. 29.
“So if worse comes to worst, we’ve got a fall-back plan where we can house pre-K through sixth at Motlow for those two weeks,” Cox continued. “Seventh and eighth we could probably hold class at the middle school in the career technical part. I think we have some classrooms there, or even in the library if it came down to it, or the auditorium. So there is a Plan B, but that’s only through August. After the 29th, there is no Plan C. There’s no place to go.”
School director of maintenance Donnie Caldwell said Dibrell principal Robbie Hitchcock was working on maximizing classroom space in the existing building. Caldwell also said he was pushing the contractor to meet the schedule as closely as possible, but there is no way of knowing about additional weather delays.
“So we’ve got a Plan A and a Plan B, but Plan C could be home school,” Cox quipped.
Hale said there is one more alternative, considering it would be a temporary situation because the construction contract requires an October completion date to avoid penalties.
“I’d hate to do this, but what we could do is expand out and take a grade to a school,” Hale said. “That might be a nightmare, but we could do that.”
McCall said it is important to work with Midstate to make up lost days and even hire a second shift where possible.
“I think the main area where we can apply pressure on Midstate is in the existing building,” McCall said.
“If we can get that done we might make it,” said Hale, but Cox noted that could be easier said than done.
“Well, the only glitch in that plan is them getting it done,” Cox pointed out. “If it’s not done, then that plan doesn’t work.”