Hailed at its opening in January by Richmond Mayor Dwight C. Jones as “the Taj Mahal of high schools in the state of Virginia,” officials say Huguenot High School has experienced some “hiccups” since students returned last month.
Stuck elevators, a water leak that bowed part of the gymnasium floor, and an air-conditioning unit that gave out last week all have drawn workers back to the $63 million school.
“We’ve had some hiccups,” said Tommy Kranz, the district’s assistant superintendent for support services. “Any time you have a new state-of-the-art facility that large, there’s going to be some issues.”
The 250,000-square-foot building was the first new public high school built in Richmond since what is now Armstrong opened in 1968.
“It’s a problem,” said Richmond School Board member Kristen Larson, whose 4th District includes Huguenot. “Clearly we continue to be overwhelmed by facilities issues; we have to get out of this reactive mode.”
The challenges come at a time when Richmond Public Schools has had to rent an air-conditioning unit for Armstrong at a monthly rate of $10,000 following a mechanical failure that forced the school to close for a day.
Huguenot’s issues fall under a warranty and will not generate costs for the district, said Michael F. McIntyre, vice president for program management at AECOM, the company that oversaw construction of Huguenot and three other schools for the city.
The city recently built Huguenot, Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School, and Broad Rock and Oak Grove-Bellemeade elementary schools, then handed the facilities over to the school district.
As a result, “there’s been a little more red tape than necessary,” Larson said of responding to facilities issues.
Hess Construction built the 1,400-student-capacity building, which was the fourth and last school constructed to date under Jones’ “Building the Best Richmond” campaign.
The damage done to one of Huguenot’s two auxiliary basketball courts appears to have occurred during the recent downpour and should not affect school operations, McIntyre said.
Kranz said a school worker brought the problem to his attention over the weekend after noticing that the floor appeared to be buckling.
A follow-up inspection revealed that water had seeped into duct work through a mechanical unit and dripped onto the floor, said Donald Summers, senior capital projects manager for the city.
“The contractor has accepted ownership,” Summers said.
Once work is finished on the unit that took in water, the contractor will have the affected sections of the floor replaced, he said.
“The prognosis that came out of the inspection yesterday is that they’re moving very quickly,” McIntyre said Tuesday. “This really was driven by an unusual rainstorm.”
Kranz said students stuck in the elevators at Huguenot were able “to get out very quickly.”
“We’ve had a couple of elevators stick,” he said. “We’re working diligently on that one.”
The problem may have been caused when elevator doors were held open too long, which interferes with the machines’ self-regulation, Summers said. A contractor already has replaced a part that may have been to blame, he said.
An air-conditioning unit on the school’s second floor that gave out last week is fully operational again, Kranz said.
“One of the units was giving us fits,” he said. “It would run and then it would shut off, but we took care of it. It’s been a team effort.”