By JONAH LOSSIAH
One Feather Staff
During renovation projects at Cherokee Central Schools (CCS), construction workers discovered a worrying sign – mold.
The remodeling efforts were halted, and an investigation was immediately launched by CCS and EBCI Project Management. The construction being done is part of the $22 million expansion that was nearing completion on the CCS campus. That project will now be delayed several months at least.
Chris Greene, manager of Project Management, said it was the workers from Vannoy that first spotted the issues. Vannoy is the general contractor for this project.
“They were walking through the offices because they’re (about) to demo the old admin offices, that’s part of the remodel. They’re doing that and adding classrooms and everything over there. When they started going through their demo phase, they’re walking around the exterior walls, and they saw mold coming through the dry wall at the bottom. You could see where there had been moisture at some point along the way.”
Greene knew they needed outside help to assess the damage and to see how to move forward.
“Of course, you’ve got to figure out what the source of it is. That’s where you get with Terracon. That’s one of their specialties, finding moisture intrusion and what causes it. Terracon is a big engineering firm, and they do other things, but that’s really their niche,” said Greene.
Superintendent Michael Murray said that this has been a major blow to the project, but he wants to address the issue with a clear mind.
“We’ve had to stop [Vannoy]. Didn’t want to stop them. We were on track really well during COVID. I felt like we didn’t have a choice but to stop them. They have agreed to hold the price that they had negotiated if we can get them back by summer. So, that’s why there’s urgency,” said Murray.
Murray said that it’s time to bring in stakeholders and make sure that everyone understands the significance of the issues at hand.
“Everybody knows when you remodel, you’re going to run into some things, but not to the extent that we ran into”.
He said that he’s hoping that working with a third-party firm for this assessment and repair could offer a couple of things.
“One, look at the parts that we’re building as part of that expansion project. The PNR areas are the areas that we’re expanding first. Like the central office. Tell us what we need to do. Why is the water barrier failing? What can we do to repair it? What extent is it going to be before we can get it back to Vannoy?”
The other aspect brings a much bigger question mark.
“Let’s go ahead and look at the rest of the building. Because we’ve had areas where there have been concerns about leaking from day one. The knuckle areas. We’ve had BIE look at it, we’ve had other people look at it. They’ve always had a damp feel to them. So, we want all those areas looked at and we’re going to make sure we repair everything as we move forward and approach Tribal Council with funding.”
Terracon offered a rough initial estimate to the school that works in a tiered approach. The total estimate capped at just over $200,000, with a fraction of that to start the surveying. Chris Greene said that these are truly base estimates, and there is not yet a gauge on how much this will actually cost or how long it will take at this time. It all depends on the extent of the damage and what has caused it. “I can’t tell you a timeline until we know what exactly is going on, what it’s going to take to repair it so we can get a cost to repair it, and then getting the funding to have it repaired,” said Greene.
Murray said that he’s not excited to know how much that bill will be.
“I don’t think anybody, when they look at that, thinks it’s not going to be bad. It’s the extent of how bad it’s going to be. I can’t think of a better place to be. Because we have more support from Tribal Council and others than any other system ever had.”
He also mentioned that they will be seeking any other forms of funding they can.
“We’re also going through BIE to see if we can claim something there. We’re also looking at our insurance to see if we can claim that. The Boys Club is our agent, so the Boys Club is working on that aspect of it. There may be opportunities to seize other funding. The state of North Carolina doesn’t fund our school, so I won’t be receiving state funding. But BIE is looking at it and they can produce funds. But for the majority of our funding, especially timely funding, we will need to approach Tribal Council,” said Murray.
Murray mentioned that insurance can be very tricky. This was not a single flood incident, so flood insurance is off the table. He said that there is fine print that excludes coverage for mold damage as well.
“The one thing that is covered is structural damage. Something – and I’m hoping the third-party company can let us know what it is – failed. Whether it was the water barrier. Whatever is causing the water intrusion, to me, will be structural. When that happens, and we get that proved, that’s what I think the insurance company should be able to reimburse us for the structural failure of this building.”
Superintendent Murray said that fixing the problem is the priority. He said legal action could be needed at some point, but he’s focused on getting the process started.
“It’s not right that we are 12 years into a building and we’re looking at this kind of damage. I keep being asked, does that mean litigation? We’re trying our best to get out of this ditch first. But we are also not happy that we have a 12-year-old building that’s in this ditch. I’m not playing that down; I’m just saying we don’t want to focus on that until we get through to see what’s actually happened.”
Greene and Murray said that they were hoping that the CCS expansion and remodel could have been completed by summer. Now, this mold problem could delay that by half a year.
“The pandemic is one thing. I was pretty proud of everyone working with us with the masks, doing all the things to stay safe with the pandemic. Then, we get this close to finishing up with the last phase [of construction], and to find something like this is very disturbing and disappointing,” said Murray.
“But we’re also committed to making sure we’re good stewards of money and we’re going to make sure that we get something that our children and our community will be proud of and that we can have years of service out of. We’re determined to move forward in a progressive manner with this.”