The Martin County Board of Education received an update Monday about delays to the MCS Innovation Campus.

Until recently, the facility had been on track to offer classes during the current semester.

Located at 407 East Boulevard, the 60,000-square-foot facility, when complete, will offer Career and Technical Education (CTE) and STEAM (Science Technology Engineering Arts and Math) classes. Other offerings will include classes in the areas of health sciences, business/entrepreneurship, computer technology/drone technology and advanced manufacturing.

Although the center was originally developed to be a shared CTE Center for Riverside and South Creek high schools, officials said Martin County students of all ages will be able to experience STEAM curriculum and activities at the Innovation Campus.

Jim Guard, Director of Career and Technical Education and Director of Instructional Technology, told the board the parking lot has been completely repaved and the lines had been painted earlier that day (Monday.)

“They put the finishing touches on it early this morning,” he said. “It looks really good.”

Renovations to the existing structure have been delayed in the last month because of unforeseen structural damage, difficulties getting material because of supply chain issues and a broken sink that had to be reordered, according to representatives from A.R. Chesson Construction Company of Williamston, the company doing the renovations.

Guard added delays were caused from a realization that there were parking lot safety concerns, and they needed a way to control the flow of traffic in and out of the parking lot.

“This was not in the original plan,” he said.

He said delays caused from these issues were not the fault of Martin County Schools, the architect, or the contractor.

“Once parking lot renovations began, traffic issues became more apparent - people cutting through to Bojangles - and tractor trailer folks trying to defy the laws of physics to get to where they are going one-tenth of a second early,” Guard said.

It was decided that gates would need to be installed to restrict the flow of traffic.

The original contract had a targeted date for completion at the end of May 2021, at an estimated $6.2 million. With the added parking lot gates, “it will take an additional $12,000 - $15,000,” Guard said. It was unclear from the meeting where that money would come from or when the gates would be installed.

Doug Chesson, vice president of A.R. Chesson Construction, gave the gave the board an overview of what the company has been doing over the past 30 days.

“We continue to work on the finishes and are just about finished with the painting. We have finished all the polished floors. We determined that the entrance flooring was in too bad of shape to try and polish it, so A.R. Chesson is going to put in traffic-grade carpet at the approval of the architect. I think this is going to be a more favorable situation for the students. When they come in with wet feet, they will have better traction,” he said. “The counter tops are in place. And the sinks in the laboratories are going in right now.”

He said they are still waiting for the replacement of the broken sink to arrive.

Martin County Building Inspector Jody Griffin is scheduled to come next week, he added.

“We started cleaning today and anticipate going through the whole facility with a cleaning crew and will have that complete the end of this week - to the middle of next week,” Chesson said. “At this point, we have the building inspector lined up for next week - depending on what day that sink gets here. The fire alarm, the sprinklers have all been tested. The only thing that the building inspector is worried about is that sink, which will go in one of the bathrooms.”

Al Chesson, owner and president A.R. Chesson Construction Company, also addressed board members.

“The bottom line is when can students be there? That is scheduled for Friday, September 24,” he said.

According to MCS Superintendent David Fonseca, the delay has already caused the first semester of classes offered in the building to be pushed back to spring.

Al Chesson said the delays were, in part, caused from requests for changes by the board.

Fonseca said they were told none of the changes they requested would cause a delay in the building’s opening.

Doug Chesson then explained A.R. Chesson should have been more upfront about the delays, but that the delays were not anticipated.

“We did really well staying out in front of supply issues during the first part of the problem. It has just affected us at the end,” said Doug Chesson.

Al Chesson added, “We have some responsibility on the delay of this. We take ownership of that. We want you to understand, [the delay] is not from a lack of trying or effort.”

MCS Public Information Officer Sarah Stalls said, “Although the schedule has not panned out as we had hoped, we will use the fall semester to begin bringing elementary and middle school students to the campus for STEAM opportunities. We are confident the earlier we introduce students to Career Technical Education based opportunities, the more excited they will be to participate as high school students.”

In other MCS news, Julie Thomas, MCS lead school nurse, reported that despite a rough beginning, they were beginning to see a decline in the number of Covid cases in the school system.

Public comments were made to the board about COVID issues concerning the mandatory wearing of masks and questions about the continuance of in-person learning.

Mabel Thomas claimed that masks made of paper and cloth do not work to stop the spread of COVID.

“The evidence is overwhelming,” she said. “COVID is not going away. What are you going to do when it comes back year after year after year?”

Another parent, Regina (last name indistinguishable) said she had a child in each school and asked the board members to consider offering a remote-learning option.

“I am concerned why the schools are even open,” she said. “Covid, and schools being open right now, and masks not working, is jeopardizing our children and is not fair to us, or our children,” she said. “I understand they need an education. I’m all for that.”

She feels that only offering face-to-face learning is, “not right. It is not working. We’ve got to do something different. And the truancy issues – we get in trouble for trying to keep our children and our other family safe. It’s not fair,” she added.

Thadd White is Group Editor of the Bertie Ledger-Advance, Chowan Herald, Perquimans Weekly, The Enterprise & Eastern North Carolina Living. He can be reached via email at twhite@ncweeklies.com.