The lowest of three bids for installing a North Wilkesboro sewer line along three miles of N.C. 18 North to replace Mulberry Elementary School’s failing septic system is $151,665 more than a $1 million grant approved for the work.

The three bids, opened in mid-July, were $1,151,665 from Classic City Mechanical Inc. in Winterville, Ga.; $1,292,760 from Buckeye Bridge LLC in Canton and $1,453,932 from Carolina Grading & Utilities in Jefferson.

Wilkes County Manager John Yates said the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), which awarded the $1 million Community Development Block Grant to the county for installing the sewer line extension, will be contacted about how to proceed since the lowest bid exceeded the grant.

Yates said Kelly Coffey, senior planner with the High Country Council of Governments, will contact DEQ officials. Coffey is assisting with the project on behalf of officials in Wilkes.

Nearly a year ago, Coffey said a preliminary engineering report estimated the project cost at $1.2 million with contingencies and unexpected rock costs. Coffey said Monday, “We have a verbal commitment from DEQ to provide the extra funds, but we have to submit a formal letter requesting them. Then I assume we will receive written notification.”

Yates said that depending on results of communication with DEQ officials, the low bid from Classic City Mechanical may be presented to the county commissioners for approval at their Aug. 20 meeting.

The county commissioners were expected to approve a contractor’s bid for installing the three-mile-long sewer line during their meeting in early June but couldn’t because only two rather than the three required bids were submitted.

The bids were advertised again as required and three were submitted the second time around, although just one bid would have been enough after a second advertising. Neither of the two initial bids could be opened.

Local officials indicated they feared bids might be considerably higher than the amounts revealed earlier this month since there initially were only two bids and also because bids for some other construction projects planned by local governments in Wilkes have been considerably higher than projected recently.

In July 2018, the county commissioners approved a contract that included accepting the $1 million grant to fund the North Wilkesboro sewer line extension along N.C. 18 North to the school.

The school needs to be connected to the North Wilkesboro sewer system because its failing septic system, installed in 1960, resulted in the county school system receiving two DEQ notices of violation. Mulberry Principal Ritchie Cornette earlier said it could have resulted in the school’s cafeteria being closed, with an “outside chance” of the whole school being shut down if not addressed.

The application for the $1 million grant was submitted by the county since the school is outside North Wilkesboro. The school system appropriated $17,500 for engineering, which is in addition to $87,500 from county government for engineering.

According to a schedule included in the contract for accepting the $1 million, the county commissioners have until Dec. 6 to approve a bid. Coffey said July 21, 2021, was the “maximum late completion date.”

The project includes a pump station, 14,500 feet of 6-inch force main sewer line, 2,520 feet of 8-inch gravity sewer line, 11 manholes and related materials.

Officials have said the 2,520 feet of gravity sewer line, on the end closest to North Wilkesboro near the Mountain View Road/N.C. 18 intersection, is the only portion that can accommmodate connections from adjacent property owners. This includes about 14 homes and one business.

Connections can’t be made along a force main line due to pressure within the line. A force main line is used to maintain adequate flow despite changes in elevation.

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