Central Elementary roof finally complete

OKEECHOBEE — At long last, the project to repair the roof at Central Elementary School is finally complete.

At their June 9 meeting, the Okeechobee County School Board approved the last change orders and final invoicing for the project, which was originally scheduled to be finished before the beginning of the 2019-20 school year.

The board approved change orders of $34,792 on Jan. 16; $19,074 on March 23 and $4,470 on April 21, all for additional labor and material. The board also deleted two change orders worth a combined total of $29,350 for work not performed.

Okeechobee County School District Director of Operations Brian Barret says the work not performed was part of the scope the project ended up not needing.

The invoicing brings an end to nearly a two year-long saga between the school district and the contractor performing the repairs, Property Renovation & Construction.

The problems first began late in 2018 when Property Renovation & Construction experienced setbacks when replacing the roof at Okeechobee High School.

“The low-bid roofer has not lived up to their references,” said Mr. Barret during an April 2019 presentation to the school board. “A two-month job has now stretched into seven months due to poor workmanship and not following the contracted roof specifications. We have put their bonding agency on notice, and attorneys are involved. We are providing the roofer the opportunity to get things corrected…”

Unfortunately, the school board had already approved Property Renovation & Construction’s bid on the Central roof repair project before the extent of the problems happening at OHS were apparent.

Eventually, the scheduled completion date for the Central roof repair came and went, and then once school was back in session, contractors were limited to working only on weekends. After that, Mr. Barrett reported in September 2019 that a completion date couldn’t be estimated.

With problems continuing, the school district considered moving on from the current contractor. But school board attorney Tom Conely explained why he felt hiring an inspector to monitor the contractors might be a better way to spend their money.

“If we fire somebody we’re going to have to go through a legal process. We’re going to go through litigation,” said Mr. Conely. “How is our money better spent? Our money is better spent in getting the project finished. I think it is going to be good to have the inspector there full time.”

At the school board’s December meeting, Mr. Barret estimated that the project could be finished by spring break 2020.

“They got a little bit done over Thanksgiving break,” Mr. Barret reported Dec. 10 to the Okeechobee County School Board. “I don’t see them getting done during Christmas break. One thing that isn’t their fault is that every time they tear something off, they find something that isn’t up to code.”

Once again, school board member Jill Holcomb asked if the district had to keep the current contractor.

“If we got rid of them, it’s going to cost us a lot of money,” explained Mr. Barret. “They came in at such a low bid. We’d have to re-bid this and it would cost us a lot more than it’s costing us now.”

While the closing of schools due to COVID-19 caused headaches for teachers, students and parents, it allowed work on the Central roof to be finished. So even with all the damage the pandemic has caused, there is a small silver lining, since it helped bring a quicker end to the years-long construction nightmare at Central Elementary.

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