Three Knox County schools on the verge of construction

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Three schools are on their way to being built in Knox County within the year even as the school system and county government see cost increases.

The Knox County Schools Board of Education gave the OK last week to award contracts for the new Adrian Burnett School and a new, unnamed school in northwest Knox County. A new Lonsdale Elementary School gained approval the month before.

The new campuses will come with a price hike, though.

“You never know what the construction market is going to be and you never know what pandemic you’re going to be in the middle of,” said Russ Oaks, chief operating officer for Knox County Schools in a workshop two weeks ago.

The School Board then voted unanimously at last week’s meeting to approve separate contracts for Adrian Burnett and the unnamed school.

The northwest sector school contract was bid at $23,050,000 to Maryland-based Tricon Inc. and the Adrian Burnett project came in at $19,945,000. It was awarded to Merit Construction Inc., based in Knoxville.

The moves came after the Knox County Commission locked down costs to cover the increasing price of steel in a volatile market due from the pandemic.

Costs have already risen for the projects. Oaks told the School Board that Adrian Burnett was originally budgeted for $19 million and the northwest elementary school was budgeted for $21.9 million.

One reason for the higher-than-projected price tags was expansion, he said. At Adrian Burnett, school officials decided to go with six new classroom additions, along with demolition of the old building.

The original plans has called for a facility with a 600-person capacity.

The new additions, however, mean the capacity will rise to 800 people. 

Plans for the unnamed elementary school have been subjected to much the same thing. Knox County opted for eight additional classrooms, which will put the school above a 1,000-person capacity, Oaks said.

Oaks said both projects would end up costing a bit more due to the changes and the revisions will come before the School Board during the 2020-2021 fiscal year budget process. 

Capital costs will go up, he said, but there was also no money provided for furnishings, fixtures and equipment.

The northwest elementary school could prove even more costly. The county has also agreed to road improvements into the new facility, of which the school system will pay half.

The northwest school could end up costing around $29 million, Oaks said.

Another factor, Oaks said, is the requirements set by international building codes which are updated every seven years. 

Oaks said their requirements are a bit more stringent this time around, which led to increased costs.

“I don’t think we’re ever going to build another elementary school at $14 or $15 million unless it’s for 200 kids, and I don’t think we want to do that either,” Oaks said.

Cliff Hightower can be reached at cliffhightower@hardknoxwire.com.

Published on March 16, 2021