Big Walnut BOE discusses construction concerns


SUNBURY — The final Big Walnut Board of Education regular meeting of the 2022-2023 school year included an agenda discussion item about the district’s newest building, Big Walnut High School.

The May 18 meeting agenda stated, “It is recommended the Board approve to have an open discussion regarding Gilbane Construction.” Gilbane built BWHS after completing next door Prairie Run Elementary School.

“The discussion is that there is less than high quality for what the community paid in my opinion,” said Board President Doug Crowl. “The other problem is that the original construction project was to be completed by the end of December of 2021, and the athletics was to be completed by June of 2022, and the last calendar I looked at we’re in ‘23. So, we’re beyond the end of what should have been a completed project. So, we have lack of response to complete, along with many, many issues of quality. And I would make a motion that this board give Gilbane 30 days to finish, or not be allowed on the project.”

In response to a question, Crowl said there will also be a forensic construction and accounting audit of the project being undertaken, which the board had previously approved.

Superintendent Ryan McLane said the athletic facilities were not completed when he unofficially came on board last June, citing the tennis courts and the baseball and softball outfields.

“There have been many issues, many concerns with the athletic side of things that are still not complete,” McLane said. He noted that Athletic Director Brian Shelton had a consultant assess the grounds, with a recommendation to scrap the unlevel, gravelly, and unsafe baseball field.

“We’ve had multiple conversations with Gilbane, with our architects … but it’s just not an acceptable playing surface. I mean, if you rolled a ball, it would look like Skee-Ball — it would jump, and I wish I was exaggerating, but I’m not,” McLane said.

In walking BWHS earlier, McLane found “numerous issues that were still not fixed,” and he sent photos to both Gilbane and the architect.

“We’ve got a door on the third floor where there’s only two screws and the hinges and the screws are actually coming out of the front of the door. … tile not cut evenly, not what we would expect of our brand-new high school. … and then we have an HVAC (specifically air-conditioning) situation that we don’t have a solution to yet,” McLane said.

Another problem mentioned was needing a sump pump for the orchestra room.

McLane said the meetings with the builder are typically once a week via Zoom, but it’s now May.

“I understand your frustration. I share that frustration,” he said to Crowl.

“My biggest frustration is the fact that I spent 26 years building golf courses,” Crowl said. “I understand what the seasonal schedule is, and if we don’t give them the 30 days to finish” grass seeding, the fields wouldn’t be ready until 2025. “They need to get off the pot,” Crowl said. “You can’t buy a season.”

Treasurer Darren Jenkins said a $1 million invoice has yet to be paid and is being held due to the issues mentioned. Jenkins said that is why he had asked the board to approve the audit.

Board Vice President Angela Graziosi said they were repeatedly told the project was on budget and on time.

“I think this board, this district, this community needs to have answers,” Graziosi said.

Board member Steve Fujii agreed with the “non-responsiveness from the vendor in the Zoom calls” and “the poor quality of the athletic fields … just horrible, horrible craftsmanship.” However, he was concerned that the 30-day deadline could impact other BWHS building issues.

“We’ve played around with this for long enough, it’s time to have some sort of resolution,” Fujii said. “Yes, we opened the doors on time; yes, we did so on budget, but did we sacrifice things because of that? If we put them on the clock now, do we wind up doing damage to ourselves in the future?”

Crowl said he wanted “to put them on the clock for the whole project. We’ve got one contract with Gilbane that includes the athletics and the building. … they’re non-responsive and have been. … In the contracting world, I’m being gracious with them …

“When people start doing this, you’re better off just to get it done, let the lawyers handle it is my opinion, and it’s been my life experience,” Crowl continued. “I mean, they’re months and months over their construction date. … We’re going to have to initiate it.”

The board then unanimously approved Crowl’s motion.

Assistant Editor Gary Budzak covers the eastern half of Delaware County and surrounding areas. He may be reached at [email protected].

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