MOUNT VERNON — At the old Central School on Chestnut Street, work on a $4 million renovation project is taking shape rapidly, enough so that one can get one’s bearings inside the basement, main and upper floors — despite all the construction debris and dust, and yet-to-assemble wiring, pipes and conduits — that are being readied as the new home of the Knox County Board of Elections and Veteran Services offices.
That project completion, along with a grand opening, should happen by early next year, Knox County Administrator Jason Booth and Modern Builders site superintendent Ken Bevington said while offering site tour to the News on Tuesday.
The building’s exterior has made substantial progress the past several months. The old steps leading up to the main entrance along Chestnut Street were moved back so that a flat entry area is wheelchair accessible — and connected to an American with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliant ramp. Those veterans in wheelchairs, and other visitors who can use stairs, will both be accommodated as they enter the Veteran Services office. The Veterans office main floor already shows, based on drywall going up, where its Welcome Center, staff offices and restrooms will be located.
The back side of the former Central School, which turned 80 this year, is also buzzing with activity. An exterior elevator shaft, gray in color and designed by Thyssenkrupp Elevator, is completed. A $150,000 part of the overall project, it awaits work on its interior components and an entry way and doors that will take visitors to the elevator. Work is soon to begin on a refigured parking lot that faces Sugar Street.
The building exterior also includes all-new Pella windows, a separate project totaling about $87,000. They are nearly completed, front to back, a project taken on by workers for Gunton Corp.
“Virtually every window in this building was just a bit different in size, so they needed to be custom fit,” Booth said. “Of course, they (the old windows) had been there since 1939, so I think they held up pretty good.” The new windows should help save on utility costs through energy efficiency, he added.
On the west-facing side of the building, three Mitsubishi HVAC units — each one to provide heating and cooling to one of the building’s three floors — have been installed at ground level. They are located near the old coal chutes that used to supply coal to the old heating system, and which have now been covered over with cement and other material. In the old school building, those coal chutes had allowed water to get into one part of the basement near the boilers, which have been completely removed.
When the elevator is completed, it will take visitors up to the second floor. Construction has already taken enough shape to show that when they step off the elevator into a small reception area, they will be just a few feet away from sliding glass windows above a counter, where they will be able to speak with Board of Elections workers. The election board offices will also be on this upper floor, as will their break room and restrooms. Their restrooms will be on the other side of walls currently going up that will contain a large meeting room that will be assigned to the Veteran Services office — although it can be shared as meeting space if schedules permit.
“I think it was important to make the building as 50-50 square footage-wise (split evenly between the elections and veterans offices) as possible,” Booth said.
The lower level of the building, or basement, is part of Board of Elections domain and will include areas to vote as well as areas for equipment storage, along with restrooms. On Tuesday, RCI Mechanical was busy using a small machine to dig trenches inside the basement for plumbing line placement.
“RCI has done an absolutely fantastic job on their work,” Booth offered. Meanwhile, in praising all of the subcontractors for keeping on schedule, Booth said the electrical subcontractor, Buckingham Electric LLC, has also kept to schedule and has exceeded expectations. Bevington, who reports on the project to project manager/estimator Loren Phillips, said the company basically serves to keep the entire project on track and make sure the subcontractors have what they need in material and time to do their best work. The old Central School has been a challenge, but proceeding from the top-down on construction has been advantageous. Roofing work was among the first projects to be completed, he offered.
Booth said Modern Builders’ use of subcontractors will also be advantageous as construction of the county’s new maintenance facility building across the street gets underway soon. The same subcontractors can go back and forth between both projects within easy walking distance of one another.
It was imperative that the highest quality subcontractors be used to renovate the old Central School given the age of the building, and certain challenges that required specific skills sets. For instance, he said, Gunton Corp. had to take on window installation because its workers are certified to handle asbestos removal. The only asbestos to be removed in the entire project was in the old glazing used to hold windows in place.
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