A Rock and a Hard Place

By Lonnie Harp — December 15, 1993 28 min read
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Riding high in his custom pickup truck, Terry Stewart is weaving through mountain valleys. For a dozen miles from the little town of Wheelwright past Hi Hat and on past McDowell, KY 122 uncoils bend after bend, a snake of asphalt with a solid yellow stripe wrapped against the tight-packed mountains.

With his right foot barely pressing against the gas pedal, Stewart feels the need to explain: “It’s no use going anything over 35 in these mountains. People get going 55, and then come up behind a bus or coal truck or somebody slower, and you end up doing 35 anyway.’'

On the road, the truck is going 35, but the first-year principal of South Floyd High School is in high gear. He is excited to show off his new building.

“This school is very important to these people because they feel left out of a lot of things,’' Stewart says of the residents of these hills. “We’ve expanded the curriculum and have labs and computers and facilities people have never seen before.’'

South Floyd High School sits between two bends in the road south of the Hi Hat power station. In some official documents, it is referred to as being above the substation, which, in truth, it is. Terry Stewart mashes the gas as he turns into the school’s entrance. The steep drive is walled by the rough brown face of rocks. At the top of Mitchell Hill is the new school and its striking view of the Cumberland Mountains that rise above Beaver Creek.

Inside, Stewart is quick to steer a visitor to the new library, bright and inviting and well-stocked with 2,800 new titles. He wants newcomers to see the technology lab, furnished with lasers, robotics, and computer drafting stations. He even points out the photography darkroom, though it can’t be used because of a dispute with the builders over whether anyone ever intended to install a door.

Stewart breezes into a home-economics classroom and turns the tour over to Gwinetta Mitchell, who talks about all the new mixers that mean more participation in making yeast breads, and Cuisinarts that help students see how modern kitchens work, and a larger enrollment that might allow for adult classes after school.

“We’ve got every food implement known to man,’' Mitchell says with glee. “We even have a pasta maker so we can teach these kids how to make their own noodles.’'

“There is no comparison,’' says the veteran teacher, who previously worked at the dilapidated and now abandoned McDowell High, which, along with Wheelwright High, was consolidated into the new school. “This is like a mansion. Anything we want to do is available here.’'

Stewart smiles.

The new principal is glad his school can at last be recognized as the modern, well-appointed facility it was intended to be. As something other than “the ongoing Left Beaver construction project.’' Something other than the butt of jokes about the “Eternity Construction Company.’' Something that sounds less like a fiasco.

“People got out of heart with it,’' explains Luther Johnson Jr., a Wheelwright councilman and the president of the South Floyd High School booster club. “People believed it never would get done.’'

Launched in 1986 as a $4.4 million project that would include a 700-student school building, gym, and athletic field, South Floyd High School should have been an unremarkable product of a state program that has provided $1 billion in bonds for new schools across the state over the past eight years.

Instead, the project has come to illustrate how the deep pockets of taxpayers are plumbed by local school boards and administrators unseasoned as managers and by state officials wary of questioning local spending of state funds.

Since 1986, the cost of the project has climbed from $4.4 million to $4.5 million to $4.6 million to $5.0 million to $7.4 million to $9.9 million to $10.9 million. And the price tag continues to go up as the district begins construction of the gym. The running total, as close as anybody can tell, now hovers near $13 million.

And that’s without the football field, which is now a reddish muddy rectangle crowned with hapless sprigs of grass, bordered by a chain-link fence. The lot proved too narrow for a full-sized football field and, somehow, is prone to puddle, despite remarkable drainage potential--a sheer drop on the other side of the fence plunges 150 feet.

Seven years after being chosen as the site for a new high school, Mitchell Hill has surrendered a good chunk of its forest and its sandstone, shale, and coal for a troubled school-construction project notorious for expensive delays, miscalculations, and its appetite for money.

For any greenhorn venturing into this section of the Appalachians, it quickly becomes apparent that the terrain dictates much about the way of life. Roads generally follow creekbeds that meander through the valleys. Off these roads, houses and trailers occupy the few patches of level ground that they often share with a family cemetery, a satellite dish, old furniture, cars, chickens, roosters, and hunting dogs.

Builders and planners of large-scale construction projects face two choices: Carve level areas out of the mountains or build up from a flood plain. Welcome to Floyd County and, for that matter, much of Eastern Kentucky. And welcome to Hi Hat, center of the remote southern section of Floyd County where the rules of the land and the heavy hand of Mother Nature are even more exaggerated.

“That area can be flooded before the river ever feels any pressure,’' says Jim Osborne, the chief of operations for the Floyd County schools. As tributaries of the Big Sandy River, many of these mountain creeks are the first to swell and the worst for flooding.

These geographical factors became paramount considerations in the mid-1980’s when Floyd County suddenly found itself the beneficiary of money from the state school-facilities-construction commission. The panel was created to help overcome a longstanding and worsening statewide deficit in school buildings--particularly in the poor communities of Eastern Kentucky.

In Floyd County, the promise of new money raised hopes. Since the days of the New Deal, with its burst of federally financed construction, the local school board had averaged only one new building every decade, slowly consolidating worn-out community schools.

In 1986, the state pledged $23.9 million in bonds for the county with the promise of more in its next two-year budget. The much-needed money hit like a mountain thunderstorm that transforms lazy creeks into gushing waterways.

Four construction projects quickly moved to the drawing board. By 1990, the board expected, Floyd County students would have a new middle school in Prestonsburg, the county seat; two new elementary schools in Allen and Garrett; and a new high school for southern Floyd County.
The three other projects moved along.
But the high school, from the outset, was plagued by the geography of these mountains. Every site considered had significant drawbacks. The top choice, a plot in the crossroads of Minnie, sat in the flood plain and would have required landfill to raise the site. It was also distant from Wheelwright, whose residents, like those in McDowell, were anxious about the consolidation.
“There are people still upset with me,’' says Mary Hall, a doctor in McDowell who represented the area on the school board at the time. “We wanted a place that was high and dry. I thought if we could fly to Mars, we could remove a knob and clear a hillside, but this has been a monster.’' In the end, the school board in June 1987 bought a longshot, Mitchell HillÑan ancient mound noteworthy only to railroad engineers as the rise of land at the south end of the Hi Hat tunnel. “A thorough search had been made for sites to no avail,’' board minutes state. Board members also noted concern that, unless they decided where to build, the state funds might be lost.
Halfway between rivals Wheelwright and McDowell, and far from a flood risk, the hill even drew an unusual formal endorsement from the state superintendent of public instruction. The $4.4 million South Floyd High School, first listed as a district priority in 1984, had finally found a home.

The fiasco was born, it now seems, along with the project itself. To manage its new portfolio of building projects, the school board chose to hire individual construction managers rather than general contractors. The managers sold themselves by promising to do a better job at a better price. By hiring them, the managers argued, the board would avoid the markups associated with general contractors and achieve more flexibility and oversight at each step of the process.

A big winner in that decision was Sam Martin Jr., a prominent local builder and the president of Martin Engineering and Construction. Two days after hiring architects for its new buildings, the board tapped Martin as the school district’s supervisor for the construction of South Floyd High School and the new elementary school in Garrett.

Even as plans were drawn for the high school, the cost of building on the mountain became a growing problem. Cost problems have lingered ever since, draining the district’s building funds and forcing school board members to make most of their decisions in an atmosphere of crisis.

In June 1988, two months before the first bid was even approved, the board voted to ask the state for a 5 percent increase in all of its construction projects and, to save money, moved to delete the gym at South Floyd. When the excavation contract was awarded in August and work on Mitchell Hill was finally ready to begin, state officials told the Floyd County superintendent that, given the fact that the state funds set aside for the high school were rapidly dwindling, it was time to rethink the project.

Citing an “inadequacy of funds,’' the state education department’s director of buildings and grounds asked local officials to project what the building would cost. By the end of September 1988, the board had paid more than $200,000 each to its architect, James Ellis of nearby Pikeville, and Martin, the construction manager. Combined with other costs and the projected excavation contract, the state calculated that $1.8 million had already been obligated. The funds available for the rest of the 73,000-square-foot building would be adequate only if construction costs ran no more than $38 a square foot, an unthinkably low amount.

In a letter a few days later, Ellis argued that a new location should be found for the school. Beyond the high excavation costs, he cited a number of potential problems: The curve in KY 122 at the school entrance could be a safety hazard for slow-moving buses; the steep driveway into the school faced north, which meant that water draining from the school might freeze and be slow to thaw; no one was certain how difficult it would be to connect the building to the nearest water main a mile away. He also warned of inadequate parking and the likelihood that the athletic field would be too narrow for football and impossible for baseball.

Even as work on the high school halted while the board weighed its options, Martin, the construction manager, stayed busy. In December 1988, the school board retained him as manager for two more construction projects to be funded with a new round of state money. At the same time, officials were deciding to scrap a gym at the Garrett elementary school project that Martin was supervising because of cost overruns there.

By early 1989, the planners of South Floyd High School had regrouped and offered a new plan: splitting the work into two phases. The first phase, financed with the funds on hand, would build half of the school. The remainder would come from the next wave of state funds earmarked for Floyd County. Officials requested the maximum budget allowable, listing the new cost of the high school at $4.6 million.

In September 1989--three years after the state approved the construction--Martin and district officials announced that they would soon bid the project. In December, contracts totaling $4.6 million for the first phase were awarded.

In the fall of 1990, as the other schools approved in 1986 began to open, the South Floyd High School site was finally humming with activity. But almost as the construction began, change orders requesting more work and extra funds began pouring in from contractors. The district again requested a 10 percent increase. The state responded by asking for an updated final cost.

About one year into construction, Ellis and Martin and the school board began trading charges about delays and changes. Ellis was chided for not spending enough time at the building site, while Martin was criticized for moving steel joists and other material onto an unfinished section of the excavation, delaying the project by months. The school board, meanwhile, which had opted for a construction manager in order to have more control, often found itself flustered and confused.

As the project was spinning out of control, the state in August 1991 approved an additional $3.2 million for the high school, bringing the total cost of the project to $7.8 million.

The construction project became a source of controversy and lively gossip for local residents and officials. Change orders flooded in like a tide, steadily raising costs. At a June 1991 board meeting, 24 change orders, ranging from $165 to $79,653, were approved.

“In construction, you may have things that pop up, but it is not a wholesale, beginning-to-end occurrence like this has been,’' says Mike Luscher, the state’s building-and-grounds director for most of the project. “This has seemed like anything that can go wrong will.’'

The firm excavating the mountain sued over a host of problems and delays, eventually winning a decision in the case, which is being appealed. Claiming that faulty engineering plans and numerous delays and problems led to extra costs, the excavator was awarded $164,212 by a Floyd County circuit judge.

Litigation and controversy surrounding the building projects led the architect Ellis to the edge of bankruptcy by May 1992, when his contract was terminated after he was unable to pay for professional-liability insurance for his firm. In the meantime, the state approved another building request at South Floyd High, this time $2.6 million for an expanded 2,000-seat gymnasium. Sam Martin was named as construction manager.

As the school building took shape, change orders funding the second half of its construction continued to flow in. In April, six change orders, ranging from $2,612 to $50,271, were approved. In September, as the school opened, still more came in, ranging from $12,752 to $36,672.

In October, when the board approved still more change orders, it also filed an updated funding request with the state for the high school gym, for which the foundation was being built. The new cost of the arena, officials said, was $3.4 million.

Besides big numbers, the grand total represents growing frustrations, frayed nerves, and questions over how the project became so ridden with problems.

In a school district with so many obvious construction needs, why does it take nearly a decade to build a school? How can state and local officials allow a $4 million school and gym to become an $8 million school and a $3 million gym and a football stadium somewhere down the road? And who is paying for all this?

After providing $24 million in bonds during the first biennium of the new building program, the state sent $15 million to Floyd County in 1988, $9 million in 1990, and just $1 million in 1992. Cost overruns on the early projects have taken a goodly chunk of the overall funds, as evidenced by the South Floyd project, which has logged substantial costs in each two-year cycle.

County officials estimate that 70 percent of the state’s funding has gone to address 40 percent of the district’s building needs.

“It goes on and on and on, and it is still going,’' says Ed Billips, a regional sales manager for Teco Coal who recently resigned in frustration from the Floyd school board. Elected as a reform candidate, Billips grips a Louisville Slugger as he expresses his frustration. He says it has become clear that no one is willing to put an end to the district’s lingering construction programs. “It hasn’t changed a damn bit, and I don’t expect it to.’'

He is particularly critical of the district for failing to put a cost ceiling on any of its construction projects and of the state for refusing to step in and order that its money be used more effectively. He and others point to open-ended contracts with Martin as an indication that projects were launched without any expectation that they would be finished on time.

“It is set up to linger and draw, draw, draw out,’' Billips says. “If Frank Lloyd Wright were alive today, we could get him for the same money that we’re paying to build this school.’'

The bustling school-construction business in Floyd and surrounding counties launched by the state’s expanded building program has been a boon to Sam Martin Jr.

On South Floyd High School alone, Martin has been paid, to date, $396,940. His construction-management contract for the gym project guarantees at least $166,000 more. Initially, he estimated building the school and a gym would take 14 months of construction and, for his trouble, he would draw a $206,422 paycheck.

Martin, a former schoolteacher who went from building houses to commercial projects, has been a prominent figure in Floyd County’s construction binge. He collected $277,299 for managing the Garrett elementary school project launched at the same time as South Floyd High. Since then, he has collected $81,087 from the Floyd County school district for managing the work on other projects, including a new elementary school in the town of Betsy Layne, that have never made it past fill dirt.

In neighboring Pike County, officials have paid Martin and his company, which employs about 15 full-time workers, $846,000 over four years for managing construction of a high school, gym, and athletic complex, and, in Martin County, he made $350,000 between 1988 and 1992 on a middle school.

In Floyd and Pike counties, the final payouts to Martin exceeded the amounts called for in his original contracts, due to delays that extended his services. Provisions in those contracts promised a monthly check for the duration of the projects.

State and local officials alike have not found anything illegal about the terms of Martin’s contracts. Observers have noted, however, that he carved out a comfortable niche in a program designed to infuse state funds into poor school districts.

“We didn’t get into this to make money; we’re here to do the job and do it right,’' says Margueritte Martin, Sam Martin’s wife and the vice president of Martin Engineering and Construction. She adds they could have made more money from the projects if that had been their goal. “We are general contractors, too, but we just don’t believe in doing the taxpayers that way.’'

Sam Martin refused several requests for an interview. But he defended his work in a letter dated Feb. 8, 1991: “We feel construction management can best be utilized to control cost, time, and quality of construction. The key is hiring the construction manager as early as possible, preferably prior to hiring the architect, so the construction manager’s expertise in monitoring the budget can be utilized throughout the design stages.’'

In his 1986 contract with the Floyd County board--a modified version of the industry standard--Martin promised to monitor building progress, speed up the work cycle, solicit bidders, and “perform in an expeditious and economical manner consistent with the interests of the owner.’'

While setting a 14-month construction cycle, Martin was also careful to make sure he would not be penalized--and indeed would be rewarded--if the project should linger. “No fixed limit on construction cost shall be established,’' the contract states. Later, it adds that the time line “is only a projected period of time and that many factors could cause necessary extension of time for the construction phase.’'

Under the contract, Martin’s lump-sum construction fee of $191,422 would be paid in 14 monthly installments of $13,673. Should the project linger, the monthly installments would continue.

Beyond the open-ended contract, critics also question Martin’s handling of bidding on the South Floyd High project. Of the 33 contracts initially awarded in 1989, 19 went to single bidders.

Martin himself won a $90,000 contract for hoisting work and has made $285,500 from contracts on his two Floyd projects.

At South Floyd, the two largest construction contracts were awarded to new companies with no bidding competition. T&C Construction, which won the contract for masonry labor, was legally incorporated more than a month after the bids were awarded, according to state records. While the work originally was bid at $387,600, the company had been paid $658,604 through October because of change orders.

Warco Manufacturing Company, incorporated in October 1989, won contracts two months later for chain-link fencing and guardrails as well as for plumbing. The contracts, one with no competition, the other with one competitor, totaled $355,610. As of October, Warco had been paid $568,991 for work at the high school.

By this fall, change orders accounted for 36 percent of the total construction costs at South Floyd High. Most of the contractors have doubled the amount of their original bids through the additional work.

A 1991 review of the change orders by the state education department’s division of finance found that, even though all were proper and legitimate and that even more would be needed, the strategy of using a construction manager was proving unusually costly.

“The purpose of using a construction manager is to increase the number of prospective bidders as well as getting a better-built building,’' Artie White of the finance office wrote in a memo to facilities officials. “The bidders were few, and most of the companies were local. This situation is very unfortunate financially for this district.’' It was also, he added, beyond the jurisdiction of the education department.

Just as state officials felt helpless to act on behalf of the $6 million they had invested in South Floyd High at the time, local officials showed scant signs of dissatisfaction.

“The attitude was, ‘Whatever it cost, it cost,’'' says Ellis, the Pikeville architect who was fired almost six years into the project after he was unable to pay his insurance costs. “I’ve seen some disgusting things going on--a hemorrhaging of taxpayer dollars.’'

Early in the project, Ellis pelted local officials with memos critical of their site selection. As his frustration grew with the frequent delays in the project, he also became adamant in objecting to Martin’s open-ended contract.

Only in neighboring Pike County, and only recently, have local officials begun to turn their attention to the work of the construction manager.

A Pike task force this fall issued a report examining similar construction problems there. The panel focused on a high school and two athletic facilities, all three of which were managed by Martin.

“A common thread of construction management surfaced when these various projects were compared,’' the report noted. “The Pike County school system has obviously not been well served by construction management in the projects under review.’'

In addition to recommending that a construction auditor be hired to more closely inspect the work, the Pike task force said that, if construction managers are used, they should have a solid background, sign a contract prepared by the school board’s lawyer, rebid any items that don’t draw more than a single bidder, and prohibit the construction manager from bidding on work at the site.

The group was clear in noting that its qualms were not with the concept of construction management, but rather with Martin’s work.

“To discourage construction managers would be throwing the baby out with the bathwater,’' says Bruce Hopkins, the spokesman for the Pike district and the head of the task force. “This is a critical time because the public is upset with the lack of progress and the perceived costs of these buildings. There is still a stigma that somebody screwed somebody somewhere, and we need an independent source to sort through that.’'

Meanwhile, the state officials who oversee the use of the school-construction funds have found little cause for concern in Pike and Floyd counties. Throughout the South Floyd High project, for example, they routinely approved change orders and higher cost estimates. And in two separate reports examining the construction, their findings principally faulted the site selection, individual contractors, Ellis, and the local board. While concluding that the project was not the ideal, one state official noted that “we have not found a ‘smoking gun.’''

Yet, a 1991 report by the state auditor faulted the education department for not providing greater scrutiny of the costly program.

“Through the state board’s right to approve contracts and its mandate to oversee the use of state and local funds utilized in construction of state schools, the state board has responsibility to insure that funds are spent wisely,’' the auditor’s study of construction in Floyd and Pike counties found.

State officials, meanwhile, say they feel no pressing need to closely follow how the construction funds--more than $1 billion to date and much of it to areas with little experience in juggling building projects--are being spent.

Unlike new classroom programs, which must be planned and designed, construction is an area where school officials are always aware of where to target new money, says John Brock, the superintendent of public instruction whose term overlapped with much of the Floyd County controversy. “Because the schoolbuilding program has always required school districts to have an up-to-date facilities plan, we know where the need is, and the dollars can immediately be used there,’' Brock says.

In the case of Floyd County, Brock was familiar not only with the construction needs, but also with the people involved.

He confirms that he spent his 1990 Christmas vacation at the Martins’ vacation home in Cape Coral, Fla. Brock says he has known Martin “for some time’’ and does not consider the stay a conflict of interest.

“I had no decisions regarding those matters,’' Brock says of the South Floyd High project.

Throughout Brock’s term as state superintendent, however, associates recall his being interested in how construction funds were targeted, particularly in his native Eastern Kentucky.

Regardless of Brock’s role, state officials both before and after his fouryear term have been willing to approve local construction decisions with barely a question and often scant attention to the findings of state investigations.

Two weeks after the 1991 report by the state auditor was released with great fanfare--one of its principal recommendations being the end of open-ended construction-management contracts--Luscher, the former state building supervisor, approved a new contract between Sam Martin and Pike County officials authorizing open-ended payments of $15,857 a month at Pike Central High School.

A lack of both local and state supervision has been evident in most facets of the projects, particularly at South Floyd High School. In a deposition filed in a lawsuit over payment for excavation there, the lawyer for the excavator notes that, “by custom and usage,’' extra work was done with the assurance that the corresponding paperwork would be prepared, approved, and filed later.

In what observers describe as an attempt to instill integrity in its building program, the state board of education last month tightened its construction rules. Local districts must have proposals from at least three architects or construction managers before signing a state-approved contract. Minor change orders can be approved by the education department; major change orders must win approval of the state board. The state education commissioner may also cite an architect or construction manager for malfeasance or nonfeasance.

In Floyd County, critics contend that, despite its laundry list of construction needs, the district has not made the most of nearly a decade of state assistance.

“The school-finance-construction commission dumped huge amounts of money on local boards that had no financial expertise to manage that kind of construction program,’' observes Scott Perry, the editor of the Floyd County Times, a twice-weekly newspaper that has written frequently about local construction issues. “The board tended to shove it off to the side and let somebody else handle it.’'

Board members also used the newfound cash, in part, to indulge their own vanity, charges Billips, the former board member.

“Instead of having resolved the educational-facility needs of this county, we’ve got a bunch of monuments,’' he says. “We haven’t given much thought to the education needs involved.’'

Of the four schools built using the finance-commission funds, two bear the names of board members at the time. Two other board members will have gyms named after them; the gym at South Floyd, for example, will bear Mary Hall’s name.

Of the $49 million in construction-commission funds that have poured into Floyd County, $32 million has gone to the four projects launched in 1986. “Nothing ever costs what they say it’s going to,’' Perry notes.

Even when projects finish roughly on time, as was the case at the new James A. Duff Elementary School in Garrett--named after a school board member--the problems do not end. Floyd County officials paid $250 a week for more than a year to have a fire truck parked outside the school to boost the water pressure necessary to operate the school’s sprinkler system. Fixing the problem cost more than $100,000.

Unexpected settling problems, meanwhile, have forced substantial extra work at James D. Adams Middle School--named after the former board chairman. Stephen Towler, the superintendent in Floyd County for the past two years, acknowledges a host of logistical and management problems.

“I think the state is finding that, maybe, school boards have not exercised enough oversight and, maybe, school personnel are not knowledgeable enough in construction--that maybe not always the wisest decisions have been made.’'

“You could write a manual here on how not to construct schools,’' Perry says. Even though it has recently hired people with a business background to manage its finances and operations, the district seems to have learned few lessons from its construction woes, he says.

“Maybe there is nothing criminal here, but it sure does look bad,’' he says with mounting frustration. “The state basically doesn’t provide any direction at all--they haven’t convinced me that they know any more than the local people running this.’'

The state’s hands-off stance, combined with weak business management within the district administration, made Floyd County’s problems more glaring. Yet, Billips argues that the same problem festers throughout school administration beyond Floyd County and well beyond school construction.

“You’ve got to be strong-willed and focus on what you want to do, and I don’t see that here or in the state education department,’' he says. “The only reason this school district is able to succeed is that it operates on an inexhaustible supply of money. There never is a ceiling; they always just say, ‘We’re going to build this school.’''

More expensive and lavish schools have been built. Indeed, at South Floyd High, builders have repeatedly scaled back their original plans. And students more deserving of a building with modern equipment and an expanded curriculum would be hard to find. At times, it seems almost shameful to pick on this sorely needed school.

“We’re trying to keep this positive,’' says Stewart, the South Floyd principal who has spent his first few months engaged in public-relations work in addition to the jobs of merging the staffs and students from two rival high schools.

“It’s a wonderful building,’' concedes Billips, one of the project’s most vocal opponents. “My question is, ÔShould it have cost this much?’ The answer to that is, ‘No.’''

As if to prove Billips’s point, the new Otter Creek Correctional Center clings to a nearby mountainside. Its 75,000 square feet of building space makes it roughly comparable to the 525-student South Floyd High. When full, it will accommodate 400 prisoners in its dormitories, which are supplemented by classrooms, a football field, basketball court, library, cafeteria, and workshop.

Ground was broken last February. Construction began in May. The state granted U.S. Corrections Corporation, the Louisville, Ky.-based parent company, an occupancy permit in October, when prisoners began arriving.

The nine-month project was excavated, built, and furnished on a $5 million budget--a finished total of $67 per square foot. In contrast, South Floyd High has cost $122 per square foot.

“Building anything in the mountains is difficult,’' says Milton Thompson, the architect of the prison. “But once you get the site established, it is pretty normal except for getting things up there.’'

Some people in Wheelwright still find it hard to believe that the place is open, given the span of other local construction projects.

“People are used to these things taking years,’' Thompson says. “But we move very fast; we needed to get the building open. This is our money, and we shepherd it very closely.’'

Thompson lets out a laugh when asked whether a prison project can rightfully be compared to building a school.

“I would put it up against any state facility--it is built to last,’' he says. “If you think kids are hard on buildings, you should try inmates.’'

A version of this article appeared in the December 15, 1993 edition of Education Week as A Rock and a Hard Place


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