Replacement of Mulberry Elementary School’s failing septic system with a connection to the North Wilkesboro sewer system has been delayed because only two companies submitted bids for the project.

The Wilkes County commissioners expected to approve a contractor’s bid for installing the three-mile-long sewer line extension during their meeting Tuesday night but couldn’t because at least three bids must be submitted when bids are first sought.

County Manager John Yates said the lack of bids was likely due to contractors being especially busy now.

Yates said that to move forward, both initial bids had to be rejected without being opened and the project had to be advertised for bids again. This action was approved Tuesday night.

Yates said the county commissioners can approve a bid if only two or even just one bid is submitted after the project is advertised a second time. The new deadline for bids is 2 p.m. July 17. He said this means the county commissioners won’t take action on a bid any sooner than their Aug. 6 meeting.

The next county board meeting is July 2, and Tuesday night the commissioners agreed to cancel their July 16 meeting.

In July 2018, the county commissioners approved a contract that included accepting a $1 million Community Development Block Grant from the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to fund the North Wilkesboro sewer line extension along N.C. 18 North to the school.

The school needs to be connected to the town 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 of town. 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, 2019, to approve a bid. Kelly Coffey, senior planner with the Boone-based High Country Council of Governments, said July 21, 2021, was the “maximum late completion date.”

Nearly a year ago, Coffey said a preliminary engineering report estimated the project cost at $1.2 million with contingencies and unexpected rock costs. He said he was told the state has “a few thousand dollars extra” that could be added if necessary, depending on how the bids come in.

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 have connections from adjacent property owners. It 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.

Both county and North Wilkesboro officials have voiced concern about the sewer line extension not serving property owners along more than 2,520 feet of the new sewer line.

State officials have said the project cost would be much higher, plus the $1 million grant would be lost, if the scope was changed to allow serving property owners along more than the 2,520 feet of gravity sewer line.

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