Bladen school board approves two bids in new Tar Heel School construction project

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Feb. 2—ELIZABETHTOWN — Michael Burris of Virginia-based MBP and Quality Septic Services of Wendell have been approved for hire in the new Tar Heel School construction project.

The Bladen County Board of Education came to split decisions Tuesday on each during a special called meeting of less than half an hour. The current Tar Heel Middle School is grades 5-8 and is scheduled to be torn down and replaced on its N.C. 87 site with a state-of-the-art, $47 million facility capable of housing 800 students in kindergarten through eighth grades.

Plain View Primary School, a K-4 school on Chicken Foot Road, will close.

Board members, with only Chairman Vinston Rozier and immediate past chairman Roger Carroll in person and the other seven attending remotely by phone or internet, voted 6-3 to hire Burriss. The contract is 20 months and $172,000.

Burriss is part of a firm more than three decades old that works internationally and across the country, with headquarters in Fairfax, Virginia and an office in Raleigh from which he works. He was chosen over two other candidates, one from the Cunning Group of Raleigh and the other with the architectural company for the project, SfL+a, which has offices in Raleigh, Fayetteville and Myrtle Beach.

Votes against hiring Burris were Bladenboro's Carroll and Tim Benton of District 2, and Elizabethtown's Dennis Edwards, an at-large member. Carroll is a Democrat, Benton and Edwards are Republicans.

Board members voted 7-2 to approve Quality Septic for installation of the septic system. Voting against were Carroll and Benton.

This bid process was done twice; the first resulted in one bid by the Tara Group of Lumberton for $425,000. In the second try, Bladenboro's Callahan & Wells bid $435,000 and Quality Septic came in at $244,958.50.

Before voting, Dr. Jason Atkinson explained the process had included two rounds for bids, and that assistance was gained to check the bids for accuracy and proper pricing. He also made contact with four companies in Bladen County qualified in permitting that could do the work, making sure each was aware of the opportunity.

"I don't understand how this bid is so low compared to the other two," Carroll said.

Atkinson responded, "I asked the engineer to look at that. He did verify" that all things were proper and accounted for in the proposal.

Edwards said he checked with someone about the Tara Group's bid.

"The bid was mostly doubled," he said. "That's ridiculous that that was even brought to us."

Cory Singletary, an at-large member and Democrat from Clarkton, before adjournment asked Rozier about beginning a discussion on evaluation of Atkinson. Rozier stopped the conversation and proceeded to motions for adjournment. Because this was a called meeting, the board would have violated state law if doing business for any purpose other than stated in the reason to call the meeting.

The Tar Heel School project began with a different superintendent in place, and a Rusty Worley as the key liaison as the director of maintenance for the school district. Dr. Robert Taylor has gone on to be a deputy superintendent for state Superintendent Catherine Truitt, and Worley has left to work for the town of Elizabethtown. Concerns about the project due to the price tag and Worley's exit have been raised in county commissioners' meetings; two attended this meeting in person.

Funding for the Tar Heel School project is largely coming from the N.C. Department of Public Instruction's Needs-Based Public School Capital Fund. Originally, in January 2021, Bladen County Schools gained approval for a $15 million grant. A local match is required, $1 for $3 in grant funds for Tier 1 counties and dollar for dollar in Tier 2. Bladen County is Tier 1.

Then, this year, the General Assembly approved and Gov. Roy Cooper for the first time since being elected in November 2016 signed a state budget. Within it was an increase in the Needs-Based Public School Capital Fund, and Bladen County qualified and successfully applied for $40 million; it's match remained at $7 million.

The project of SfL+a projects a total cost of $47,142,022.

The new school will be built behind where the present school exists, tucked just inside the intersection of N.C. 87 and Tar Heel Ferry Road. The existing school will come down in favor of parking. Following some work by the Department of Transportation, the only school traffic to use N.C. 87 will be right-turn only for staff parking; student drop-off and pick-up will use Tar Heel Ferry Road. The access from the road to the school will have a major upgrade.

Atkinson said part of the preparation process involves having a backup plan to where students go should the doors not be able to open in August 2023, which is 19 months away. Plain View will still be standing, but the old Tar Heel school by then will be gone.

This story authored by Alan Wooten of the Bladen Journal. Contact him at 910-247-9132 or