August 23, 2012McNair Elementary School, which is being built for $25 million at 4603 Yanceyville Road in Brown Summit, won't open as scheduled on August 27, in part because the general contractor, Farley Associates Inc. of Indian Land, South Carolina, hasn't paid all its subcontractors on the project, according to Guilford County Schools administrators and subcontractors.
Administrators and one of the subcontractors said some subcontractors have walked off the job at McNair because they haven't been paid – and, meanwhile, the Guilford County Board of Education kept accepting later and later projections for opening dates, despite the fact that it was increasingly obvious the school would not be finished by the start of the school year.
"Yeah, that's definitely been an issue," said Guilford County Schools Construction Director Julius Monk. "I know we've had a couple come to us and we've referred them to Farley's bonding company."
Monk said he did not know how many subcontractors on the McNair project were not working because they had not been paid.
At a Guilford County Board of Education meeting on July 26, 2012 Monk said that "substantial completion" of the school – the contract milestone at which a school is ready for occupancy according to construction documents – had slipped from July 18 to sometime between August 15 and August 20. At that time, Guilford County Schools Facilities Department administrators said the project was behind schedule because the electrical subcontractor, Devine Electrical, had to be replaced, slowing the project.
Another major subcontractor on the project, however, said his company didn't receive its first payment until three months after it began work on the school, and that the problems arose long before Devine left.
"Farley has not been paying people," said the subcontractor, who asked that his name not be used. "I've had to threaten to pull out six or seven times. Then, by some miracle, a check shows up. When you don't get paid for 190 days, it's hard to run a small company. That electrician was going broke."
The subcontractor said he knew of similar cases of nonpayment of other subcontractors.
Arty Bolick, a construction attorney at Brooks, Pierce, McLendon, Humphrey & Leonard LLP, which represents the school board, said he had heard about subcontractors not being paid.
"As to the nonpayment, we have been alerted that some subs have not been paid," Bolick said. "We have reported them to the surety company."
The surety or bonding company for Farley Associates is The Hartford Financial Services Group Inc. Bolick said he knew of at least one case in which The Hartford had to cut a check directly to a subcontractor because Farley Associates had failed to do so.
Monk, however, said that there may have been other issues with Devine Electrical than the company not being paid. He said when the electrical subcontractor pulled out of the project, Guilford County Schools was unable to contact the company. A call to the company for comment was not returned.
"I think it could be a combination of reasons," Monk said. "I know when we made attempts to connect with the electrical contractor, we could not communicate with them. Farley replaced them in July."
Bolick said that, under its contract with Guilford County Schools, Farley Associates is responsible for $2,000 a day in liquidated damages for each day beyond July 18, 2012 that the school hasn't reached "substantial completion."
Bolick said that Farley could be responsible for "other consequential damages," such as the cost of moving students into other schools until McNair is finished.
"We have asked them for a completion plan, which includes a new completion schedule, and they're committed to provide us that this week," he said. "They gave us a completion schedule before, and, obviously, that wasn't met."
As late as August 14, Guilford County Schools Executive Director of Facilities Planning and Construction Robert Melton was telling the school board that McNair would open "on time" on August 27. By Friday, August 17, all hopes of opening McNair by the start of school were abandoned, and Guilford County Schools Chief of Staff Nora Carr sent an email to top administrators and school board members titled, "Urgent Information Regarding McNair."
"As late as last week, we were still optimistic we could move our students and staff into McNair in time to open school on time," Carr wrote. "The district's original move-in date for McNair was around July 30, 2012. The recovery plan that was in place would have allowed us to move into the school next week, with the school ready for students on August 27."
Why administrators thought that a move-in date that, under Farley Associates, had slipped from July 30 until late in August would suddenly be workable on August 27 is a mystery.
Got all those dates? Probably not on such short notice, and since you weren't expecting it if you're a student or a parent of a student scheduled to attend McNair.
Carr's email told the school board members and administrators that, until McNair is finished, students in kindergarten and first grade will attend Brightwood Elementary School and third, fourth and fifth graders will attend Jesse Wharton Elementary School. Second grade, English as a second language and special-education students will be split between the two schools.
McNair, originally known by the project name Northern Greensboro Elementary School, was sold during the run-up to the 2008 bond referendum as a 700-student, K-5 school that would draw students from Jesse Wharton and Brightwood. Northern Elementary was added as a third source for McNair students at some point after 2008.
Ironically, almost no one wanted to send their children to McNair, despite the fact that it will be a shiny new school that is well equipped and in a beautiful setting. The opposition to the school board's attendance zone plans for McNair was led by parents of Jesse Wharton students, who said they were happy with the services and the sense of community at Jesse Wharton.
Now the students the school board fought so hard to send to McNair are returning to Jesse Wharton and Brightwood.
School board member Kris Cooke is on the project team for McNair. She said the team has been worried despite long being told the school would be ready in time for the start of school. Cooke has eyes.
"We met on July 17," Cooke said. "They had a chart and a calendar about how it would go. I'm not a contractor. I don't build things. But I'm pretty smart. When I go out there and there are bulldozers out there and mud all over the place, and you've got a contractor telling you it's going to be complete ..."
Cooke said she went to the beach for a week and returned a week ago.
"I knew as soon as I drove out there that there was just no way – that it would be a safety issue for our kids," she said. "They need a facility that's complete, and so do our staff."
Cooke said Guilford County Schools made the right decision to put off using the school.
"I'm glad the decision was made," she said. "There were other things they were considering, like delaying school a couple of days. But it's not a couple-of-day problem."
James "Trey" Farley III, the president of Farley Associates, would not comment on any of the issues raised by the delay in McNair's completion.
Farley said, "At this time, we don't have any comment on it at all."
McNair administrators will work at both Brightwood and Jesse Wharton, although the McNair phones and principal will be at Brightwood.
Guilford County Schools has scheduled an open house for parents of McNair students on Thursday, August 23. Parents of students in kindergarten through second grade can attend from 4 to 5:30 p.m. at Brightwood. Parents of students in second through fifth grades can attend from 6 to 7:30 p.m. at Jesse Wharton.