Branch & Associates submits low bid on middle school construction; bid $2.3 million more than projected

Branch and Associates, headquartered in Roanoke has turned in the lower of two bids for the construction of Pulaski County Middle School. However, that winning bid is $2.3 million over what construction of the new school was projected to cost.

Last week Branch bid $38,449,000 – beating out the second company bidding – Charles Perry Partners, Inc.

Estimates by RRMM Architects were used to establish the $45.7 million projected total cost of the project, which voters overwhelmingly approved the issuance of bonds for during last November’s election.

RRMM’s projection for “hard costs” – including site development and construction – was $39,755,000.

The early grading work – being conducted currently at the middle school site by Branch Civil – is contracted to cost $3,615,885.

That leaves $36,140,000 for remaining site work and actual construction – $2.3 million less than the Branch bid.

School officials are blaming higher than expected steel costs – brought on by tariffs on steel – for causing the shortfall.

School Superintendent Dr. Kevin Siers said Thursday that Branch officials had told him steel prices have risen 25 percent since January, and 40 percent in the past year.

“Our best estimate is those increases have added about $2.8 million to the cost,” said Siers. “We feel we would have been a little under budget had it not been for the jump in steel prices.”

Outside the jump in steel prices, School Board Chairman Tim Hurst said original pricing on the project by school officials and RRMM “were dead on this thing.”

 “We had really sharpened our pencil a lot before we got to this point,” Hurst added.

Siers said school officials met with Branch earlier this week.

“We are looking at some value engineering to see what can be done to bring some costs down before entering into a contract,” he said.

“We just finished meeting with the county, so we’re all kind of looking to see what we can come up with at this point to generate whatever [cost saving] ideas we can,” said Siers.

“Pulaski County seems to be very willing to help us look for some solutions and come up with some ideas [on cutting costs to close the shortfall].  We don’t have anything concrete at this point. We’ve got a lot of areas to look in and will look everywhere we can. We feel confident we’re going to be able to make it all work,” Siers said.

“It’s unfortunate that the construction bids came in higher than were estimated; however, the identified overage is a number that might be overcome with some diligence by the School Board and their engineering and construction management team.  The County is paying close attention to what the deferential will be after all of their efforts have been exhausted to close the gap,” stated Jonathan Sweet, County Administrator.  “We remain optimistic that the School Board can solve this challenge and the Board of Supervisors will evaluate how they can assist them once the final deficit has been confirmed.”

Branch, according to Siers, is looking at several options on flooring to see if less expensive options can be selected without taking away from the quality of the building. 

Siers also said “FF & E” – furniture, fixtures and equipment – as well as technology are other areas school officials will be looking at for savings.

“We have more say over those and think we can free up a little bit of money out of that,” Siers said.

“Those aren’t great amounts, but every little bit – at this point – that we can contribute to construction will help,” he said.

As for Branch and Associates, they have offices in Richmond, Northern Virginia and in Roanoke where it is headquartered.

Branch was the construction company that built both Blacksburg High School and Middle School, Auburn High School and Eastern Montgomery High School. Their work crosses an array of construction projects. See more on the company at http://www.branch-associates.com

By MIKE WILLIAMS, The Patriot