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South Hills

Construction delays could mean Thomas Jefferson High School won't open until 2019

| Friday, June 8, 2018, 11:45 a.m.
A rendering shows the concept for the atrium of the new Thomas Jefferson High School.
Submitted
A rendering shows the concept for the atrium of the new Thomas Jefferson High School.

West Jefferson Hills Superintendent Michael Ghilani alerted parents June 4 that the district still does not have a definitive date for opening the $95 million Thomas Jefferson High School.

The school, being constructed on 161 acres off Old Clairton Road, was initially set to be finished this spring and open for the start of the 2018-19 school year.

That's not happening.

Construction delays and issues getting laborers to work on the site have triggered a setback in the time frame to open the new 300,000-square-foot school, that is patterned after Thomas Jefferson's Monticello.

Leaders now are working with prime contractor Nello Construction to determine if a November move-in date is possible, Ghilani said in a letter sent out to all district parents this week.

“I can't say I am optimistic about this time frame for a number of reasons including the lack of performance up until this point in the project,” Ghilani wrote. “Realistically, I believe January or later move-in is more likely.”

The project “got off to a rough start,” Ghilani wrote. The district needed to take extra steps during Phase I to ensure the ground was ready to hold the new school.

The high school is being constructed on property that sits above a more than 100-year-old mine, officials have said.

To get the site ready, the district had to use dynamic compaction — or compacting the soil to prepare for construction of the foundation — and mine grouting — in which a series of holes are drilled into the underground mine to fill them with grout in an effort to secure the mine roof and prevent subsidence, Facilities Director Ryan Snodgrass has said.

While the district initially planned to pour about 3,200 cubic yards during the grouting process, it ended up needing more than 5,000 cubic yards of grout to steady the ground, he said.

That caused an initial delay that led to a delay in the start of Phase II, or construction of the building, and also increased costs. The district in December agreed to pay two contractors nearly $160,000 total due to costs they incurred from the delay.

Delays continued, Ghilani wrote to parents.

Despite the district's entrance into a Project Labor Agreement, the number of roofers and bricklayers devoted to the project declined.

In December, there were days where there were four roofers and 12 bricklayers working on the site, Ghilani wrote, “even though we were told more workers were available through the union hiring halls.”

“Since then, many major milestones were missed and the schedule has continued to slide,” he wrote, noting that when he started in the district in March 2017, the building was supposed to be finished by June 20, 2018.

In March, as district leaders prepared the 2018-19 school calendar, they anticipated the school would be ready for Thanksgiving break.

However, delays have continued.

The project now is being done in phases. Most of the classrooms have dry wall and are painted, while the theater and arts areas just had cement slabs poured at the end of May, Ghilani wrote.

“We have had many meetings with our construction manager, Turner Construction, general contractor, Nello Construction, prime contractors and even some of the general contractor's subcontractors to move this project along,” he wrote.

“We will continue to monitor the project and its timelines and exert effort to move the project along.”

Ghilani said he plans to update the community on the progress and timeline and hopes to have “greater clarity” in the next few months.

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