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Snow Days: Weather Puts Crews to the Test in Miss.

Mon March 08, 2010 - Southeast Edition
Zoie Clift

An onslaught of rain, snow and temperatures down in the teens has caused some hurdles for construction on a new school being built in Columbus, Miss. Work on Columbus Middle School is taking place on about 50 acres of land at the intersection of highways 373 and 45 North.

A $22 million bond issue is funding the project. West Brothers Construction, Columbus, Miss., was awarded the $19.1 million bid (the remainder of the bond money, passed in January 2008 to pay for the school, went toward purchasing the property and developing the land for utilities such as sewer and electric) to build the school, which is scheduled to open in November of this year. Work on the project is running seven days a week to keep the opening on track.

Many subcontractors also are being used on the project including Burns Dirt Construction, Columbus, Miss., as the dirt subcontractor and local firm Pryor & Morrow Architects and Engineers, based in Columbus and Tupelo, Miss.

“The school is a typical metal building structure with a covered block and brick exterior and metal roof,” said Rick Williams, senior project manager of West Brothers. The company was hoping to finish the project, which started in April, ahead of schedule but weather stalled plans for a previously projected August grand opening.

“The rains this year have been excessive,” he added. “We have had to take some extreme measures to deal with the rain and wet site conditions so that we could keep working. One of the things we did was install four to six inches of crushed granite, milled asphalt and crushed stone as a ground cover over the entire site. This has given us the ability to keep working during the wet season. It has also helped to control run-off from the site.”

Williams said the crushed rock sinks into the mud and clay to create stable ground for construction vehicles to maneuver on. “This has helped us out a lot and made a huge difference in our staying on schedule.” he said. “We covered everything on site that wasn’t on permanent grass or that didn’t have a building on it. When the project is finished, we will dig up the material and haul it off site. We will stockpile and reuse the material on another job.”

Williams said the project is being built on a base of sandy, clay material that is prone to erosion so the ground cover also helped protect the site from this. “We worked with owners to provide erosion mats and seasonal seeding to get the slopes protected,“ he added. “The owners invested money in doing that to keep the project moving along.”

Williams said the company spent around $60,000 on the ground cover to get access to the building site. He said there are numerous pieces of equipment currently being used on the project including dozers, loaders, cranes, material handlers, skid steers and compactors.

The 150,000-sq.-ft. (13,935 sq m) middle school is using a spoke design, with a central commons area and halls stemming like spokes from the central area. Each wing of the school will function as a self-contained unit. Williams said the construction materials being used are energy efficient to cut down on heating and cooling costs.

A plan to handle expected increased traffic around the site also is in the works with the Mississippi Department of Transportation (MDOT). The plan calls for installing traffic lights on Highway 45 North, at the top of Airbase Hill, to widen Highway 373, from Highway 45 North to past the entrance of the school. Plans also call for installing a dedicated turn lane and a traffic light, to be used during peak traffic times, on Highway 373.

“MDOT will install the traffic signals at the intersection of U.S. 45 and SR 50,” said Bill Jamieson, district engineer for MDOT. “The other improvements will be made by permit to the city of Columbus School System. Also included into this permit will be mast arm poles for the signals at U.S. 45 and SR 50. The Department will then install the signal heads and controller.”

According to Williams, the company is working one shift but they are running every day of the week. “Right now there are approximately 80 to 100 workers on site every day,” he said.

“Hopefully the weather will cooperate so we can stay on track.”

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