School District of Manatee County begins capital projects early since students won't return until next semester.
While Gene Witt Elementary School students are learning at home, construction crews are working at school.
Work on the renovation and addition of the school is starting earlier than originally planned with students unable to come back to finish the school year due to COVID-19.
The COVID-19 pandemic has given the School District of Manatee County an opportunity to expedite capital projects.
Construction on Gene Witt’s renovation and addition was originally scheduled to start after the school year as well as the repainting of the exterior of Lakewood Ranch High School and work on Braden River High School’s track.
A six-classroom addition at Robert E. Willis Elementary School, which will provide 108 student stations, is nearing completion and will be ready early for teachers and staff to move in over the summer.
Repainting Lakewood Ranch High began April 27, and work on the track at Braden River High will start in May. These projects are expected to be completed by Aug. 1.
Construction on buildings 2 and 6 at Witt Elementary along with the new addition will be completed first before moving onto the rest of the renovation.
Renovations of buildings 2 and 6 are expected to be done by Aug. 10, and the completion of the new eight-classroom addition is expected by Dec. 15. The whole projected will be completed by summer 2022.
Jane Dreger, director of construction services for the district, said all contractors are following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines for social distancing good practices.
Although the district is able to expedite the work on several projects, the pandemic could cause some delays if there are issues with obtaining lead items, such as heating ventilation and air conditioning equipment and electrical switchgear.
“We have a lot of these things under contract and items ordered early, so I’m optimistic that we will be in good shape, but I’m not unrealistic and thinking that it couldn’t happen to us,” Dreger said. “We expedited these projects knowing that they were already budgeted, knowing that we could get a head start on them and really be able to finish the work we had intended for summer finished early and get ahead of this curve.”
Funding is secure for these projects, but the district could run into problems with funding future projects.
Dreger said the district’s finance department is conservatively estimating sales tax revenue, which helps to provide funding for capital projects, will be down between 10% and 30% as a result of the coronavirus.
“The capital projects committee is looking at delaying some of the projects that we had planned to start in the fiscal year 2021,” Dreger said.
Some projects planned to start in fiscal year 2021 are additions at Buffalo Creek Middle School and Lakewood Ranch High School. Design for these projects would begin in fiscal year 2021 with construction to start in 2021-22.
Other projects the district is working on in East County schools are a renovation and addition at Braden River Middle School and a districtwide fencing project. The fencing project includes perimeter fencing, portals, pedestrian gates and/or vehicle gates at Braden River and Lakewood Ranch high schools, R. Dan Nolan Middle School and Braden River, Freedom, Gilbert W. McNeal and Tara elementary schools.