Options explored for construction of new high school in Harrisonburg

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HARRISONBURG, Va. (WHSV) — Members of the Harrisonburg School Board passed a resolution on Monday morning to explore the possibility of changing the construction process for the city's second high school.

Nielsen Builders, based in Harrisonburg, submitted an unsolicited proposal earlier this month to design and construct the building.

Deb Fitzgerald, the chair of the school board, said the plan would be implemented through the the Design/Build method — where a contractor handles both the layout and the construction of a structure — instead of what is known as Design-Bid-Build, when the processes are separated.

Fitzgerald said some construction — like site preparation — can begin during the design phase of a Design/Build plan, which could offer the potential advantage of reducing the project's time span.

"We know very well about the overcrowding consequences that are being felt by so many people in the high school," said Fitzgerald. "If the possibility of opening in 2022 instead of 2023 is a real one, we are sure going to try to make that happen."

Grimm and Parker Architects presented a design plan in early January for the building — set to be constructed along South Main Street near Interstate 81 Exit 243. The proposal was estimated to cost the city around $86 million and set an opening date for the new school for Fall 2022.

No contract has been signed with Grimm and Parker, according to Fitzgerald, so no funds were spent by the city for the initial design plan.

The resolution passed on Monday does not mean the more traditional Design-Bid-Build process is out of the question.

The Virginia Public-Private Education Facilities and Infrastructure Act (PPEA) allows for school divisions to explore alternative methods to construct buildings.

Fitzgerald said other firms will be allowed to submit other PPEA proposals, like Nielsen did, during the next 45 days.

Nielsen's proposal will be available online in the coming days, but the projected cost will remain confidential for now, according to Fitzgerald.

The second high school, which was proposed to deal with overcrowding at Harrisonburg High and a growing population, has been a matter of controversy. In a 3 to 2 vote, city council voted to build the new school in January 2018 and agreed to purchase a 60-acre plot of land for the project later in the year. The opening date was set for 2023.