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Portal High athletes and fans to get new digs
Groundbreaking Friday for $999,644 project
W Portal Project - Architect27s Rendering
This architects illustration shows the new fieldhouse and concession stand planned for Portal Middle High School. At the near end of the football field, the buildings will adjoin the current gym and be close to the baseball and softball fields. - photo by Special

Bulloch County Schools officials and Pope Construction Co. are set to break ground Friday on $999,644 in new sports support buildings at Portal Middle High School. After changes in the plan, the cost is $429,000 less than the original lowest bid, but more than the earliest estimate.

Besides a concession stand and restrooms for spectators, the plan includes a fieldhouse for football and baseball, with bathrooms for student athletes with modern showers, replacing old ones made of cinderblocks. It will also add sidewalks surrounding the football field for improved accessibility.

The plan combines four projects identified one year ago by a facilities committee that ranked these Portal projects first, second, third and 10th on a list of 37 projects at schools around the county.

“This Portal community has been working to get an updated, nice fieldhouse for our students for years and years and years,” said Portal Middle High School Principal Dr. Karen Doty.

Phoned last week, Doty noted the high priority given the Portal athletics projects by the 35-member committee, representing all 15 regular schools and the alternative school. After receiving the committee’s report in January 2015, the Board of Education in March dedicated the $2.5 million expected from the remainder of the current Educational Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax to the top 12 projects.

The facilities committee was tasked in fall 2014 to look at remaining needs after the major investment Bulloch County made in school buildings from 2005 through 2014. In that decade, the school system spent $137 million from the 1 percent ESPLOST on buildings and technology. The three high schools and four of the elementary schools were replaced or rebuilt, and four other schools underwent renovations.

Southeast Bulloch High School and Statesboro High School got new fieldhouses and concession stands as part of earlier projects, but not Portal.

“Finally we put together a system facility committee of people from every school and community members who went around and visited facilities and then prioritized which were needed the most,” Doty said. “Number one by a long shot was our fieldhouse.”

The existing Portal fieldhouse, at the far end of the football field from the school, was used only by the football team. About 60 years old, Doty said, it has a rough interior and is small compared to more modern fieldhouses. The new fieldhouse may also be used by the track team, as well as football and baseball, she said.

In the approved plan, the concession stand will be attached to the existing gym. Both the concession stand and fieldhouse will become part of the Portal Middle High School complex built in the past decade.

Making the football stadium handicap accessible was the 10th-ranked project, now merged with the top three. Portal’s football field is already “letter of the law” Americans with Disabilities Act compliant, Paul Webb, chief operations officer for the Bulloch County Schools, said in an email.

But the planned sidewalk will literally fill in gaps. Where the existing walk in front of the stands ended, people using wheelchairs or other aids to mobility faced a drop of several inches and then needed help to cross grassed soil to the concession stand and restrooms, Doty said.


Costs cut after bid

A year ago when the committee made its report, Webb supplied a cost estimate for the Portal projects of $826,000. But this used on an earlier estimate, from about two years ago, for improvements to the concession stand rather than a replacement, he said.

The first drawings by the architect yielded an estimate over $900,000, and costs for construction have been rising, Webb told the school board Jan. 14.

When school system officials opened bids Nov. 3, the low bid was $1,429,000 from TQ Constructors. Pope Construction’s bid was second lowest, at $1,474,000, or $45,000 more than TQ’s offer. Two other construction firms asked more, with bids topping out at $1.73 million.

After receiving these bids, Webb and the architect, Craig Buckley, first sought to have TQ constructors “value engineer,” the project, Webb told the county school board. Value engineering is when planners and builders reduce the cost from the bid amount by reducing features or substituting less expensive materials.

TQ Constructors submitted a value-engineered cost that was about $160,000 less than the company’s original $1.43 million bid, Webb said. He and the architect then met Dec. 1 with a representative of Pope Construction and asked this second-lowest bidder for a value-engineered estimate. Both companies were provided the same instructions, Webb said.

But Pope then offered the revised $999,644 price tag, more than $420,000 less than Pope’s or TQ’s original bids.

To get the cost down, planners cut the fieldhouse’s width, Webb said, but it will still hold the same 51 lockers and high-capacity laundry equipment. A planned overhang covering the breezeway in front of the concession stand has been eliminated and replaced by metal canopies over the serving windows. The sewage system will now be hooked into the existing sewer line at the gym.

One of the most noticeable changes in the architect’s renderings was the elimination of a 10-foot-tall retaining wall that would have run behind the football field end zone. There will be a grassed slope instead, and a fence to keep spectators off the field.

The project is intended to give the Portal school athletic facilities comparable to those at the other two high schools, Webb said. The field house and concession stand at Statesboro High School cost about $3.4 million; those at Southeast Bulloch High about $2.3 million, so he means parity proportional to the size of the schools, he explained.


Immediate go-ahead

At the Jan. 14 meeting, Superintendent Charles Wilson first recommended that the Board of Education consider the contract for approval in February. But with a Pope Construction representative there saying the company was ready to start immediately, board members said they wanted to give the go-ahead.

Wilson changed his recommendation to immediate approval. Board member Steve Hein made the motion, and both board members who both served on the facilities committee, Cheri Wagner and Mike Sparks, said they seconded it.

Sparks had asked how the excess spending above the $826,000 estimate will affect the funding available for other projects.

Webb reminded board members that the state will pay most of the cost of another top 12 project, a new roof for Stilson Elementary School. As he announced last fall, Georgia Department of Education programs will cover 81 percent of the projected $1.1 million combined cost of the roof plus heating and air-conditioning systems, which weren’t on the list, at Stilson and Nevils Elementary.

“We’ve got some wiggle room, substantial wiggle room, actually, because the state’s going to pay for about three-fourths of the Stilson roof,” Webb said.

The groundbreaking ceremony is slated for 2 p.m. Friday. Webb gave July 31 as the target date for the project’s completion.

Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.


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