By John L. Ross / Staff Writer
After a special-called meeting of the Knox County Board of Education Thursday, it seems clear the board seeks a new engineering and architect firm to oversee the school system’s construction projects.
Three representatives from Summitt Engineering, Inc. were on hand to share with board members the company’s qualifications as such a firm — company president Philip Elswick, director of architectural services Ken Donnelly, and representative Mike Mullins.
Summitt Engineering has three Kentucky locations — Pikeville, Lexington and Henderson — as well as an office in Virginia and two in West Virginia.
Donnelly told board members that the company had been in business since 1977. “We want to be your architectural engineers,” he said.
He then gave an overview of several projects the company has overseen, including a Millard Elementary School renovation in Pikeville, the addition of an athletic facility at the University of Pikeville, the Mount Carmel High School sewer project, and a recreation center for Letcher County.
Board chairman Merrill Smith asked whether the company has ever had problems working with any of the districts during renovation projects or problems with the construction managers on site.
“We have to work together,” Donnelly explained, adding that the company was “on board” when working with construction managers.
He added that Summitt Engineering “tries to be good stewards of the environment” when it comes to energy efficiency.
Then Superintendent Kelly Sprinkles questioned the group about problems at the high school. He explained to Donnelly, Mullins and Elswick that in the existing Knox Central High School, which he said is “relatively new,” there’s a problem around the creek.
That problem is the area of the creek is a wetland minnow refuge — and under special Environmental Protection Agency rules.
Sprinkles and board vice-chairman Sam Watts explained that while clearing scrub brush from around the creek bank in that area, an unidentified woman driving past noticed the work and was concerned.
What happened next hit the school’s coffers — the school system had to plant 10,000 trees in that area, and each tree that died had to be replaced.
“Now we have this issue,” Sprinkles said. “(The brush) has been growing up and has become an eyesore for the school.”
He added they do have a working relationship with the EPA, but that “surely there’s something to be done.”
Elswick said that if he were handed the paperwork he could see if a solution existed.
Smith asked whether local construction contractors were considered when undertaking a school building project. Donnelly told Smith it “was part of the bid process.”
Watts then asked who would be the person to go to when a construction project does not follow the predetermined schedule. “Who do I have to get onto to get something done,” he asked.
Donnelly explained the school board itself is the number one group over any school-related project, and that their firm visits construction sites biweekly.
Sprinkles then felt the “red flags” should be clear when the construction or architectural firm’s payment schedule remains consistent, while the work schedule lags behind. “It loses accountability with the project,” he said.
The school board has faced several issues during renovation work at Flat Lick Elementary and Dewitt Elementary schools — and hope to avoid those issues for future projects.
No final decisions were necessary for this presentation. Once that was complete, board members stayed for a two-hour training session designed to assist them in learning the Kentucky School Board Association’s superintendent evaluation process. The meeting was then adjourned.