PBK construction project receives new contractor

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The Theater department and College report varying projected times of completion. COURTESY PHOTO / WM.EDU

Following the demolition of Phi Beta Kappa Memorial Hall Aug. 2019, a change in the contractor handling the project has prompted communication shifts between the Facilities Management team and the department of theatre, speech and dance. The next stage of construction is scheduled to begin in early 2020.  

Holder Construction was initially chosen as the contractor for the addition and renovation, and the company completed the demolition portion of the project prior to the start of the fall semester. The Facilities Project Management team and Holder were unable to agree upon a contract and pricing in order to continue working together. As a result, Whiting Turner was selected as the new contractor through a bidding process. 

This was simply a situation where we were not able to reach agreement on continuing contractual terms, namely price. Currently, we have a contractor for the site preparation work that is necessary before the foundation and superstructure site work can begin. We anticipate that same contractor will also do the foundation and superstructure site work but have to wait on the permitting process to finalize that contract. 

Holder Construction completed the demolition portion of this project and did so satisfactorily.” College of William and Mary spokesperson Suzanne Clavet said in an email. This was simply a situation where we were not able to reach agreement on continuing contractual terms, namely price. Currently, we have a contractor for the site preparation work that is necessary before the foundation and superstructure site work can begin. We anticipate that same contractor will also do the foundation and superstructure site work but have to wait on the permitting process to finalize that contract. 

Theatre, speech and dance department chair Laurie Wolf said that the new contractor, Whiting Turner, possesses the necessary contract to complete the work started by Holder and is now operating on siteHowever, according to Wolf, little progress has been made, and large delays have ensued because of backups with the College’s Code Review Team and ongoing budget issues. 

“Now, they are on site, but as you can see nothing is happening,” Wolf said. “The reason for that is because there are a lot of backups with the William and Mary internal Code Review Team and budget squeezes. That is caused from the rising costs of both materials and labor. So, what they are going to do is move some of the jobs from the William and Mary Code Review Team back to Richmond, and apparently this is a good thing because our working drawings have been with our review team for quite some time, and there are still no comments. Or at least as of the middle of October, there had been no comments. This was the last time it was updated. Apparently, the liaison in Richmond tries to have comments back on plans within 14 to 21 days of receipt. We are hoping to have the building permit by the end of the year. There is still a significant budget issue. 

In March 2019, the department met with the architects and made cuts to their original budget plan. Wolf said that the department has worked diligently to abide by budget cuts and achieve project approval. 

We went through and made a number of cuts in the original plans, and apparently there are more cuts,” Wolf said. “They have been putting together a new sort of proposal with the understanding that the pricing has gone through two contractors now, the market conditions are driving the costs, and we have done the maximum amount of value engineering and cost cutting without sacrificing legislative intent and performance teaching requirements. So, we have done everything right, what can they do for us?” 

According to Clavet, the project is expected to meet its target completion date for summer 2021.  

“Demolition of the majority of the old Phi Beta Kappa Hall is complete,” Clavet said in an email. “The next stage of construction will be foundation and superstructure (steel framing) site work which we expect to begin early in the spring semester. … Final design and permitting is under review. Overall project completion is on target for late summer 2021.” 

Wolf said she is skeptical about the renovation timeline suggested by Clavet. 

I have my doubts because that is looking at 18 months, and it is sitting empty and unused and unworked on,” Wolf said. 

I have my doubts because that is looking at 18 months, and it is sitting empty and unused and unworked on,” Wolf said. 

Arts and Sciences Facility Coordinator Arthur Knight acknowledged the unexpected slowdowns and complications that arise during construction projects but said that he believes that the College’s targeted completion date is feasible. 

“In terms of the completion date, I think that that’s doable,” Knight said. “But building stuff is always complicated.” 

Throughout the project’s duration, Wolf said that the department has kept engaged in the decision-making process but indicated that regular communication with project management has become stagnant this semester. Wolf said that she finally received an email update from Knight in mid-October, marking one of relatively few messages between the offices this fall.  

We used to have regular meetings with project management,” Wolf said. “That hasnt happened for a while, our liaisons are Arthur Knight and Eric Bradley, both teaching faculty. They are arts and sciences faculty facilities coordinators, and their job in addition to teaching, is to act as liaisons between us. … Finally, I got this email from Arthur, because it was just radio silence. 

According to Wolf, the uncertainty and lack of clear, consistent communication from the project heads has posed challenges for the departmentWolf said that it is particularly difficult promoting the College’s theater and dance programs to prospective students given the project’s uncertain standing. 

“It is hard because one of the quandaries that we have is ‘What do we tell prospective students? And when are we opening?” Wolf said. “Can they expect to be in the new PBK when they enter the College, depending on if they are rising juniors or seniors? Will they be in their sophomore year? The students that came in this year, will they be in there by the time they graduate? It is very, very difficult. Recruitment is a lot, and we do not know what to tell our current students. Our current students have been fabulous about this considering that at the moment the department is split up into six separate locations.” 

According to Knight, communication between project management and the department has stalled especially following the completion of the demolition stage in August, and that the flexible nature of coming renovation stages foreshadows more uncertainty in communication. 

“There have been much longer gaps in communication since the demolition started because that was straight forward, and everybody knew what was going on,” Knight said. “Then, we have gotten communications … of the sort … theres a transition and contractor, and were working on getting the new contractor in place and getting everything rolling again.’ But I think that that is because facilities was first in the process of working with the previous contractor and now in the process of working with a new one. In a lot of ways, human curiosity, one wants to be oh what’s going on, but Im not sure that that would be very useful, to have that kind of level of involvement in those kinds of processes. 

Knight said that he thinks decreased levels of communication are appropriate given the current mechanical demands of the project. 

It is not unusual when you get to those levels of projects, for there to be meetings every other week, and its not appropriate for everybody to be involved, but a representative or some representatives from the department,” Knight said. 

It is not unusual when you get to those levels of projects, for there to be meetings every other week, and its not appropriate for everybody to be involved, but a representative or some representatives from the department,” Knight said. 

Knight said that as the renovation enters later stages of the project, the department should expect regular communication and to enjoy further involvement in the decision-making processes. 

But I expect that once the project really gets underway, especially as it heads towards the more the mid-level, the structure is up and those sorts of things, and then decisions have to be made about final finishes and refinements of certain features of design, there will be super regular communication then, Knight said. 

Because the theater and dance department is specialized and cannot be easily housed in a spare arts building, Knight said that they have had to navigate many different levels of the PBK renovation, including displacement from the building. He said that while the project does seem to be experiencing a lapse in consistent communication, this pause would have occurred even without a change in contractor since the project is currently at a transitional point and those involved with construction prepare for foundation and superstructure site work. 

 They had to deal with figuring out with facilities and upper administration appropriate buildings that would house them; thats complicated,” Knight said. “Then they had to deal with moving. … Then just dealing with working in those different spaces, making sure they have what they need, which is harder to do when youre decentralized, youre not all in the same building. And then the fourth thing is of course the new building and making sure that they are in that process as it goes forward. So now were in this pause, which in some ways I think we would be regardless whether there were switches in contractor just because this is a very infrastructural basic level of construction.