JCM construction won’t be finished for August school start

Challenges, concerns and delay after delay on the two new school projects were shared with Jackson-Madison County School System since at least April. Neither project developer and construction manager Hal Crocker nor JMCSS acknowledged a delay, and Crocker consistently expressed the goal and ability in making the July 31 completion date.

Even though crews prioritized Jackson Central-Merry School’s renovation over Madison Academic’s new building construction, Crocker Construction is “out of time to make up for delays,” according to Crocker.

So JCM won’t be ready despite the goal to finish in time or the prioritization, meaning around 700 students who were registered to the 6-12 middle and high school won’t get in their building before September and neither can the staff tasked with educating them.

Out of four options for what those students will do and where they’ll go until, the JCM administration and JMCSS leadership announced Monday that JCM will operate under a school-within-a-school model at North Parkway Middle for middle schoolers and with a location to be announced for high schoolers.

As students, staff and families feel the impacts of this, Crocker, as developer, incurs a $2,000 per-day, per-project delay fee that is supposed to be paid to Healthy Community – Crocker’s nonprofit that owns the schools – for seven years.

First week of September is best possible start: Focusing on what needs to be done

Crocker shifted the focus of the construction from what’s been done to what needs to be done.

From the exterior look of JCM, it looks like construction is nearing completion, Crocker said, but it’s the unseen things that crews are waiting on.

Late deliveries, supply shortages and less manpower plagued construction, he said.  When delays occurred over the past year and as recently as the last three months, they could work around problems, such as switching suppliers to get materials faster or by shortening construction schedules for parts of the project.

The construction crews had been working overtime to get ahead and to avoid a delay and had contingency plans to work around issues as problems happened, Crocker said in April. Each month that there’s been a problem causing a delay, they’ve found ways to overcome it, he said.  

“But at this point in time, we’re out of time,” Crocker said last week. “There are some things that have come up recently that I don’t think we’re going to be able to overcome between now and July 31.”

For example, he detailed architectural metal panels that must cover the final insulation on the building. The panels were originally scheduled for a June delivery but were delayed to July 5 that would’ve left a four-week window for installation and led to the July 31 completion. Those panels are now delayed to a July 28 delivery, which Crocker hopes to expedite but wouldn’t make a difference for a planned August opening.

This information was shared with JMCSS leadership a few days before the July 12 board meeting so that the school system could prepare for students’ transition into the building.

JMCSS leadership hoped to get those students in the building through a phased re-entry by late August instead of September or October as leadership originally proposed.

Read more: Renovated JCM, new Madison open dates could be as late October but no sooner than September

More: From 45-day plans to ‘sooner’ phased reentry in late August: JMCSS says students will get in JCM sooner

JMCSS Deputy Superintendent Ricky Catlett  talks with Healthy Community, LLC CEO Hal Crocker during a tour of the Jackson Central-Merry High School construction site. Healthy Community is the developer over the project.

However, Crocker couldn’t guarantee a completion before September.

The suppliers can send a partial shipment of panels if Crocker Construction sends someone to get the shipment in Wisconsin. If installed starting late this week, it’s possible to finish the project and get a final inspection by late August, but Crocker still can’t guarantee that. 

The state fire marshal office inspects each school each week; a local inspector inspects by request of the construction company at the completion of parts of the project.

There are also other issues, such as waiting on software delivery for programming on the installed elevators, compliance for lifts under the Americans with Disabilities Act and some kitchen equipment that isn’t expected before Aug. 10.

JCM could’ve met its completion date if not for the most recent issues, Crocker said.

Construction crews worked overtime with each delay, but he said working extra can’t fix the metal panel delay.

“We have just enough time to finish everything else,” he said about a tight schedule. “We strongly believe that we will be able to deliver the building for occupancy in the first week of September.”

While the first week of September is the best option, the last week of August is a possibility and the second week of September is the latest option.

And if setting a date, September 10 would be a guaranteed date for completion.

The following are other construction updates, as of mid-July:

  • Paving the parking lot was set to start last week at JCM.
  • Most of the glass work at the front of the school is done.
  • The classroom wings are at about 90% completion.
  • A lot of equipment, such as lab tables and equipment ordered by the school system, have been delivered and are being installed in completed areas.

Delays are one after another and that seems to be incomprehensive, board member Doris Black told Crocker.

Educating kids

Commissioner Jeff Wall said holidays off, contractors, construction workers and suppliers have been discussed but not children’s education.  

“We’ve talked everybody’s lives’ being disrupted,” Wall said. “What about our children’s education that’s supposed to start Aug. 2. What are the plans now?”

The four options leadership considered

JCM Middle and High School principals and assistant principals presented four options that they considered as options for JCM students to get that/ their education while being “One School … One Sound” – the school’s mantra this coming school year.

Possibility: Use former Lincoln Elementary building

Barriers: Lane College owns and is using that building; furniture and restrooms are made for elementary students, not middle and high schoolers; it may be inhabitable

Possibility: A school within a school, which has been done in the past

JCM students and teachers would be in designated wings of North Parkway Middle and Liberty High since those schools have the largest JCM enrollment and already have the capacity for most of those students. Students and staff would then move to JCM once opened.

Barriers: Sharing administration and cafeteria; JCM Early College High sharing the arts programs

Possibility: Partner with Jackson State Community College, Lane College or University of Memphis-Lambuth for a temporary location

Barriers: Shared teachers between JCM middle and high school and with JCM-ECH; consistency and setting for middle and high schoolers; college students returning in mid-August;

Possibility: Three-week delay, then in school for 45 days with a 15-day break before changing to ten-day breaks under a year-round model

Barrier: JCM’s calendar wouldn’t match the other high schools; co-teaching with JCM -ECH;

Superintendent Marlon King sought feedback on the year-round school year in December. In the year-round concept, students get the same amount of time out of school; it’s just spread out, he said.

The virtual option utilized last school year could not be a possibility because the Tennessee Department of Education isn’t allowing it.

At the state level:Tennessee schools can’t offer both in-person and virtual instruction starting this fall

For JCM: King names ‘triple threat’ JCM leadership team with a JCM graduate, a former employee, and Lewis

“We’ve tried the virtual,” JCM High School Principal Ramonica Dorsey said. “Our kids need to be in front of us. The options that we’ve put in front of you are ways that our teachers and our students can be hands on.”

The principals planned to administer a Google Survey to see how parents felt about the options, but board members advised them of problems with a survey, specifically a survey to parents who might not be aware of the nuances of each option; the trust families would have in their decision as educators and expertise of an administration handpicked to lead JCM; the feasibility of some options; partner involvement; possible upgrades needed for Lincoln; the use of open enrollment; how students would need to adjust; and the overall impact on students and parents.

“We’ve already suffered a lot of learning loss, and our goal is to start Aug. 2,” Dorsey said. “’Where?’ is the million-dollar question.”

Board member Janice Hampton shared that she thought the best option would be the school within the school model because it’s less costly and less time-consuming.

Even so, JMCSS must evaluate costs associated with a school within a school model.

Board members Andre’ Darnell and Ken Newman both supported either the school within a school option or the year-round model.

“They’re coming to school, building or not,” Dorsey said.

And, ultimately, leadership chose the school within a school model.

What it means

For students and staff: school within a school

Even though the option the principals presented said that Liberty would be the high school site for the school within a school model, a Monday announcement of the plan said the high school location is to be announced.

Students will start on Aug. 2 and follow the district’s academic calendar.

In the school within a school model, students wear their school color for uniform, so JCM students would wear green and gold. Since the JCM teachers will be in the wing with the JCM students, students are already acclimated to their teachers, Dorsey said.

For JCM students, registration started Monday and will continue through July 29 at JCM-ECH, from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m.

For community trust

Vicki Lake, left, and Hal Crocker, right, present their plans for a new school during a special session of the county commission meeting to vote on the funding for a new school at West Tennessee AgResearch Center in Jackson, Tenn., on Monday, Nov. 12, 2018.

Not just students are being impacted by JCM not opening on time. Members of the Madison County Commission – the school system’s funding body and specifically the entity funding JCM in the public-private partnership – promised an August finish to their constituents because of Crocker Construction’s reassurance even amid delays.

Commissioner Claudell Brown commended the school board for the community trust it’s gained under King but questioned how the delay could impact it.

“What I’m hearing today is very, very discouraging,” Brown said. “Up to the May commission meeting, ‘We’re going to be ready for August.’ There’s no reason for November, October, September. I’d hate for them (my constituents who are mostly JCM-zoned) to feel that I misled them. I’m hearing so many irregularities from what was promised.

“Is there any way you can speed up any of this?” Brown asked.

Taking accountability for the construction schedule and construction updates, Crocker said he’s brought up the challenges they’ve faced.

“It was only until this last meeting that I felt like the challenges were ones that we could not overcome,” Crocker said.  “We’ve always had the goal and always tried to obtain that goal to not only finish according to our contract but also finish early enough where the school system would have access on day one.

“Every time we have a setback, it becomes harder because we have less time to work it out,” Crocker said.

The big question, Brown asked, was what happens to the hundreds of students who had expectations of attending JCM?

And Madison Academic?

Madison Academic in Jackson, Tenn., Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2020.

Board member Sherry Franks questioned the anticipation of problems and now the preparation and prevention of delays for the ongoing construction of Madison, which is also being built under the same funding partnership with JCM.

“We are where we are,” Crocker said. “We did what we did. I’m not trying to make many excuses.

JCM’s construction was prioritized to ensure zoned students have a building to attend this coming fall since Madison students have their current building regardless of the new school’s construction.

Crocker says supplies were ordered early enough, like in February, but suppliers based delivery on the time of construction. When that shipment time came, companies experienced delays.

Crocker Construction isn’t unique, he said. This is happening with all contractors, large and small, he said.

Franks said she was trying to be proactive and learn from the mistakes that happened with JCM.

With Madison crews moved to JCM, there’s been time for delayed materials to arrive, especially since supplies were ordered along with JCM’s.

Madison’s furniture and equipment has been delivered. Since Madison’s construction crew was pulled to JCM, thus stalling construction, the equipment cannot be moved in yet.

Many of the delays at Madison have been resolved, and many national problems will be resolved in the time for Madison’s completion, which Crocker expects by September with enough time for an October fall break transition into the school.

The $2,000 delay fee

While Crocker Construction has incurred additional costs because of delays, costs for the county commission cannot increase because the contract is under a guaranteed maximum price.

With the delay, Crocker – as the developer – would also incur $2,000 per-day, per-project for delays.

That delay fee goes to Healthy Community Education Partners, LLC – the nonprofit Crocker is the CEO of – since Healthy Community owns the schools.

Former superintendent Eric Jones asked Healthy Community to draw preliminary designs and costs for two new schools that he could present to the county as options for funding. Madison County commissioners said they didn’t have the funding for the schools because their debt was too high.

A lack of available funds led to the formation of the public-private partnership between the county, city, school board and Healthy Community. The public-private partnership utilizes new market tax credits, which are designed to attract private capital to low-income communities and offset the cost of such investments.

Read more: Multi-agency partnership to build affordable housing around renovated JCM, new Madison

The deal’s structure allows the county to push off borrowing money for the new schools until at least 2027 through a seven-year lease agreement, reduce the overall cost thanks to federal tax credits and save the county from paying for both schools since the city joined the partnership.

King’s charge to Crocker

JMCSS Superintendent Dr. Marlon King speaks to the community of Jackson on his first official day  during the welcoming event at the JMCSS Central Office in Jackson Tenn., Wednesday, July 1, 2020.

The July 31 completion date for simultaneously completing two schools – 15 months after the construction started – was always an aggressive timeline, considering how most schools take up to 18 months.

Getting to July 31: crews working overtime to finish Madison, JCM in time for school in August

King said they understand the implications of condensing construction from 18 to 15 months, but he charged Crocker to help the school system.

King asked Crocker, who owns (descriptor for what or how much he owns), if he could support JMCSS with a temporary location for JCM to use. Occupancy for school use is different from other building occupancy and using one of Crocker’s buildings would mean changing building codes.

But Crocker is willing to brainstorm and help find solutions, he said.

“We can talk about the drywall, the electrical, all of that, but parents aren’t going to understand ‘why aren’t my children in a school or in a building,’” King said. “They won’t understand the shipment; they won’t understand the delay. They want this board and this superintendent to educate students.

“They want a good education.”

Lasherica Thornton is The Jackson Sun’s education reporter. Reach her at 731-343-9133 or by email at[email protected]. Follow her on Twitter: @LashericaT

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