Construction continues across Ardmore school district

Michael D. Smith
The Daily Ardmoreite

The Ardmore school board this week received an update on construction projects across the district, from the multimillion dollar performing arts center to the nearly completed expansion of Jefferson Elementary. The largest project is still expected to take just over a year before completion but a canopy connecting Ardmore High School buildings could be rebuilt before December. 

A rendered image of the Jerome Westheimer Center for the Performing Arts sits at the center's construction site Friday, Sept. 24, 2021. The project is currently expected to be complete around October 2022.

Bill Owen, president of Fenix Constructors, gave a roughly 20-minute presentation to  board members that included a slideshow of photos from inside the performing arts center and the new Jefferson Elementary School gymnasium and office area. 

The Jefferson project, which broke ground in April 2019, still lacks some exterior items like lighting and landscaping but is mostly functional. Owen said items like a sound-absorbing “acoustic deck” on stage and colorful acoustic paneling on walls were made to improve acoustics in the new gym and auditorium. The expansion also includes administration facilities and a new school entryway.

While the north side of campus has been completed to include parking and a new entrance, Owen said work remains on the south side of campus and bus lanes. Concrete and light pole bases were expected to be poured in the coming week and sod is still needed throughout. Owen said the $5.4 million Jefferson Elementary School project has been delayed several times due to several unforeseen circumstances. 

For instance, Owen said a water line was nicked when crews started cutting the street on the north end of campus earlier in the project. When the city opted to replace the lines rather than repair the damage, Owen said that took two months of work. A similar incident later happened on the south end of campus, and a winter storm and hard freeze in February caused further delays. 

“I regret it’s taken so long. There’s been a lot of surprises come up,” Owen told board members. 

The Ardmore City School Board of Education watches a photo presentation Tuesday, Sept. 21, 2021, of progress made at Jefferson Elementary School. Fenix Constructors President Bill Owen gave the board an update of multiple projects across the district.

The coronavirus pandemic has also caused some delays in finishing the expansion at Jefferson. The short supply of some security cameras, for example, is among another delay for the project. 

“The last 18 months we’re still running into that. Some certain items you just wait. It’s not available across the country,” said Owen. 

Construction continues at the larger $36.8 million Westheimer Center for Performing Arts where crews continued to pour concrete this week. Owen said some delays have occurred due to the pandemic, including some workers directly being affected by COVID-19. Another delay was experienced when a concrete subcontractor had to be replaced. 

“I think everybody’s aware we were delayed changing the concrete subcontractor that wasn’t working out,” Owen told board members. “We got a good crew back in there and they really went to town and got it done. That’s just, unfortunately, part of the construction process business and it’s even worse these last 18 months with COVID.” 

Photos from inside the concrete shell during Owen’s presentation showed the performance area beginning to take shape. Catwalks and set rigging has been installed, items which Owen said are “a lot of work” to install. The area is expected to be covered with a roof in the next three weeks. 

The eastern side of the Ardmore City Schools performing arts center Friday, Sept. 24, 2021. The construction company hired to oversee this and other projects across the district gave school board members an update earlier in the week.

Owen currently projects construction to be completed by October 2022. 

Smaller but perhaps more pressing projects are also being undertaken across the Ardmore school district. A concrete canopy connecting buildings at Ardmore High School was removed over the summer and will be replaced this year. While delays on some materials are expected, Owen hopes the canopy will be replaced by late November. 

The Ardmore City Schools Board of Education on Tuesday also authorized administration to begin working with city officials to build a retention pond at Charles Evans Elementary School. Owen said water beneath the school’s foundation could cause structural issues and his company has been reviewing recommendations from an earlier engineering assessment commissioned by the district. 

Ardmore voters in 2018 approved a nearly $44.2 million bond issue that included the construction of the performing arts center, Jefferson expansion, high school canopy and to address the Charles Evans water intrusion and foundation repairs.