Wednesday, October 14, 2009

TOP STORY >> Steady rain delays school opening

Pupils are eager to move into Lighthouse Academy in Jacksonville, which should be completed at the end of the month.

Leader staff writer

Heavy rains have once again delayed completion of the building of the newly-opened Jacksonville Lighthouse Charter School.

The school will not be able to move from its temporary quarters at Second Baptist Church on James Street until the parking lots and driveway at the new site are completed.

The hope was to move over last weekend, with classes at the new building commencing on Tuesday. School officials still hope to move in by the end of the month.

Despite another setback, “Things are going well,” said Nigena Livingston, the school’s principal. “We are just kind of anxious and ready to get into our own space. At the same time, we are blessed to be there and are making the most of it.”

The general contractor for the $4 million project, Jim Green, is also anxious to see the project done. The interior is basically complete. What remains is about three days of construction cleanup, paint touchups and waxing the floors.

The big holdup is work outside. The two parking lots are yet to be laid, and the circular drive from North First Street stops at the school entrance, and even that is not finished. It’s lacking a top coat of asphalt.

The ground on which the parking lots and rest of the driveway are to be built “is so muddy you can’t walk on it; it has been that way for two months,” Green said.

Rain has plagued the project from the beginning, contributing to a late start in mid-March. Construction crews played catch up all spring and were optimistic that the building would be ready for the new school year.

In late June, crews were poised to begin the work on the driveway and parking lots. Then the rain came. What would have been a two-week project for a typical summer was stalled with off-and-on rains throughout the month, making it one of the wettest Julys on record. School officials conceded defeat to Mother Nature, found another location for the school and set Oct. 12 as opening day for the new building.

Green vows that classes will happen at the new school on Oct. 26, regardless of the weather in intervening days.

Even with wet weather forecast until Friday, rains can no longer stand in the way of progress, Green said. The school will open on Oct. 26, even if the work has to be done in the rain. That will require a creative approach “to get some kind of all-weather parking lot in.

“The engineers are trying to determine the best that we can get – some kind of drivable surface, even if we have to do it in the mud and rain.”