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Contractor Corrects Errant Earthwork

Mon October 09, 2006 - Southeast Edition
Maybelle G. Cagle

A delay in completing site work on a $7.7-million athletic complex for Clinton High School in Clinton, Miss., created unexpected challenges for everyone connected to the project.

The athletic complex is located adjacent to Clinton High School near the historic Natchez Trace. Plans for the complex include a football/track stadium, tennis courts and a softball field with concession stands, ticket booths and locker rooms to be built on 30 acres. The project should have been completed in time for the Clinton High Arrows football team to play its first game of the season in August.

Blaine Totty, director of buildings of the Clinton Public School District said there is a possibility the team may play on the new field this season if they make the playoffs. The team’s regular season ends Nov. 3.

“We should have been able to get on the field in July,” he said. “Now that the initial timing/planning has been thrown off, coordination is more difficult. For example, finding a way into an area to pour concrete sidewalks now that bleachers are up and the football turf is already being laid.”

Architect Brent Holmes said the biggest challenge for him was dealing with resulting problems that were created when the overall project schedule was thrown off by about five months because of the initial earthwork contractor.

“If this had gone as initially planned and the work had started in January instead of May of this year, we’d be on schedule and each contractor would have a specific location to work,” he added. “The problems affected all subsequent contractors and as a result, Mr. Totty and I are having to solve each one as they arise. Even though these have really been some frustrating problems to try to solve, I think in the end the Clinton Public School District will have a high quality facility at the high school. It will be something to be very proud of. It’s good to take a step back every now and then and try to put these construction issues in perspective.”

Holmes said the initial earthwork contractor was scheduled to complete its work in early January 2006. He and Totty realized in early March that the contractor was not as close to being finished as they were saying.

“The contractor continued to try to meet the one tenth of one foot plus/minus of the required grades until April 28, 2006, when we were provided with an as-built drawing that showed numerous elevation problems. It was at this time we realized the contractor was not going to be able to meet the requirements. That was when the school district had the contractor removed from the site,” Holmes said.

Due to problems with the initial dirt contractor, other contractors started first to work on the northern portion of the site in lieu of the stadium. This caused further complications. At one point, the earthwork contractor and building contractor attempted to work in one area of the site at the same time.

“Obviously, this initial delay messed with all subsequent contractors on site. They are making progress, just not fast enough to offset the initial delay,” Holmes said.

Totty said all initial contracts have been let and earthwork around the tennis courts and softball field is nearly complete.

The athletic complex had approximately 120,000 cu. yds. of soil brought in from nearby land also owned by the school.

“There was a relatively small amount of dirt hauled off [approximately 20,000 cu. yds.], which had some expansive clay properties. The clay was located primarily at the south end of the stadium site around a split face retaining wall. The dirt was hauled off and taken to the same area where the fill dirt was borrowed and spread out over the site,” Holmes said.

The school district saved approximately $840,000 by using its own soil as fill.

“The Clinton Park School site had a really close cut/fill so not much dirt had to be brought into, or hauled off the new school site,” he added.

In addition to saving money with the dirt at the athletic complex, Holmes also recommended separate contractors instead of one general contractor. “It’s somewhat unusual. However, we do separate contracts, sometimes, to help the school district keep the cost of the work within their budget, but not with so many contractors,” said Holmes. “The one factor that makes this manageable is several contractors’ scope of work is more minimal than others making their work less complicated to oversee.”

Holmes said the district has had its share of difficulties, but “in the big picture the cost savings to the school district — about $550,000 — will be worth the headaches.”

Nick Travis, part-owner of Mississippi Paving and Construction Co. Inc., a Mathiston firm, was originally the low bidder for earthwork at the stadium.

“Last summer, they bid the whole package, earthwork, storm drainage, the football field and track. We were the low bidder. The architect deemed the price was too high and got the contract cancelled. They separated the earthwork and rebid it. We did not get that contract. Later, they bid the football field and track and we were the low bidder in December 2005,” Travis said.

When the school district determined the initial earthwork wouldn’t be finished satisfactorily, corrective work was added to Mississippi Paving’s contract.

“We couldn’t do any work until the earthwork was finished,” Travis added.

He noted the main problem at the site was a lot of dirt was mined on school property and dumped where the football field and track were being constructed.

“When they asked us to take a look, we determined the main issue was there was no stability on the fill dirt. We have to build to tolerances and you have to have a very good foundation,” Travis said. “We did lime stabilization, undercutting and soil stabilization using a geotech fabric or crushed stone. We used laser grading equipment to get the field and track on the proper grade.”

He said the laser equipment ensured that the field was stable to install the stone and came within 0.25 in. of the finished grade.

“They were bringing stone in 18-wheelers and the ground couldn’t move,” Travis said.

A LeeBoy laser grader belonging to Mississippi Paving was used to literally level the playing field.

“There’s not all that many of them around here. You have to have it to build an athletic field and a track,” Travis said.

Travis had six workers at the site starting in August for about six weeks to do the corrective work. He subbed only one part of his contract. It went to Sprinturf, a Pennsylvania company that installs artificial turf and drainage. A system of French drains allows the turf to drain in wet weather making it playable for football or soccer year-round.

“If we had gotten the [earthwork] project last summer, we would have been through by Christmas. I signed a contract in December and had a notice to begin in the second week in January. Once we went to work, we were not delayed. We normally get the whole project. We do it and that’s the end of everything,” added Travis.

Travis said his company has done similar athletic projects for universities and colleges, as well as other high schools.

“I think once this project is completed, it will be as good as any we’ve done,” he said.

Other equipment used by Mississippi Paving was a Cat 320 excavator to excavate the track, undercut bad material, replace it and install a drainage system.

Down the road from the complex, a new elementary school is being built as part of bond issue projects. Worsham Brothers of Corinth, Miss., is the general contractor.

Clinton Park Elementary will house approximately 850 students in kindergarten and first grade.

Approximately $11.2 million is being spent to construct the school, which encompasses 40 acres.

The project, which began Nov. 14, 2005, is scheduled for completion by May 15, 2007, said Bobby McMullen, Worsham’s project manager for the school.

“We started three weeks behind, but we’ve gained time and we hope to gain more,” he said.

So far, the project has run smoothly. McMullen said he attributes that to “the quality and aggressiveness of the subcontractors. They have all been good to work with,” he added.

Approximately nine subcontractors are being used on the new school for masonry, electrical, mechanical, plumbing, roofing and painting.

McMullen said 60 to 65 people are currently working on the school and the number may increase. Crews work Monday through Friday.

One feature of the construction is the use of green blocks, which are not only cheaper, but environmentally friendly. “I didn’t realize they were green blocks until we got them. They were the cheapest, but of good quality. I am pleased with what we got,” added McMullen.

The equipment includes a Fiatallis FG65C motorgrader used for grading drives around the school. McMullen said the company rents a lot of its equipment and that machines on site include excavators, bulldozers, a reach lift and a scissor lift. Brands used include Cat, John Deere and JCB. “We have a little bit of all of it,” he noted. CEG

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