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Group tapped to find answers to Halifax County school facility needs

South Boston News
HCHS Principal Michael Lewis introduced leaders of the JROTC program, Instructor 1st Sgt. Gregory T. Scott and student battalion leaders Garriyn Yancey and Jordan Lewis, who were congratulated by Dr. Mark Lineburg. / September 14, 2017
“We’ve got to fix it.”

That was the directive by Halifax County Superintendent of Schools Mark Lineburg to a newly named committee that is tasked with finding answers to the widespread facility woes at Halifax County High School.

On Monday, Lineburg appointed seven members to a Long Term Facilities Committee: besides Lineburg himself, the group will include school maintenance director Jay Jennings, HCHS Principal Michael Lewis, Secondary Education supervisor Karla Gravitt, Clays Mill Elementary principal David Duffer, finance director Jay Camp and school trustee Joe Gasperini.

The committee’s main purpose is to conduct a comprehensive facility study of all county schools and determine the exact building needs at each. Towards that end, Lineburg said he will issue a request for proposals (RFP) in hiring an architectural/engineering firm to conduct the study.

As their first step in that process, trustees on Monday approved Lineburg’s request to pay $5,000 to Skansak, a consulting firm that will develop the RFP and help chose the winning applicant.

Lineburg suggested that Skansak was needed to advise school officials on various aspects of the project, and see that the study is comprehensive and completed in the shortest time frame possible. The firm also can help the school board with negotiating a contract for an engineering firm.

In a second facilities-related matter to come up at Monday’s school board meeting, Jennings sought board approval for an energy performance contract with Trane Building Advantage to upgrade five of the county’s nine schools, along with the STEM Center, the facilities maintenance building, the transportation building and the field house.

The contract covers upgrades to LED lighting, weather stripping of doors and windows, addition or replacement of door sweeps, the sealing of roof-wall joints, sealing of unnecessary roof or wall penetrations, and additional insulation where needed.

The energy performance contract should lead to savings in school energy costs that will more than pay for Trane’s services, Jennings has told trustees.

Schools covered under the contract are four elementary schools — Cluster Springs, Scottsburg, South Boston and Sydnor Jennings — and Halifax County Middle School.

Not included is HCHS, which the school board hopes to replace or renovate, nor three elementary schools — Sinai, Meadville and Clays Mill.

The contract with Trane is for $1,361,000, with the school division drawing on monthly savings to finance a loan to pay the company. The project is guaranteed to be revenue neutral by Trane and the state Department of Energy.

Approval of the contract came on a 5-2 vote, with ED-3 trustee Kim Farson and ED-8 trustee Walter Potts casting votes in oppositon.

Farson explained that she could not support the contract because she felt the schools that were left out were being “flagged” for future closure. “Tell it like it is,” said Potts, who expressed agreement that the schools were being designated for closure.

Gasperini noted he had earlier opposed the Trane contract because it is a 15-year project and he was not certain how many county schools would remain open that long. However, Gasperini argued that the schools that were left out of the program could be added on to a phase two project.

Jennings assured both Potts and Farson that the administration “is not talking about closing any schools.”

In other business, assistant superintendent Valdivia Hall reported that the opening of school back in August had gone well, with the addition of 39 new teachers, with 22 having local connections.

She reported that Clays Mill Elementary has 121 students and a staff of 15; the kindergarten class having an enrollment of 22 pupils. Cluster Springs has 531 students and 32 staffers; the fourth and fifth grades have the largest class sizes of 24. All of the remaining schools have fewer than 21 students per class.

Meadville Elementary has 156 students and 13 staff members, while Scottsburg Elementary has 245 students and 21 staff.

Sinai Elementary has 215 students and 19 staffers, and South Boston Elementary has 661 students and 42 staffers. Sydnor Jennings has 189 students and 19 staff members.

Halifax County Middle School has 1,137 students and 83 staff members, while HCHS has 1,537 students and 123 staff members.

Total enrollment as of Sept. 6 was 4,798 students, Hall reported. The estimate is for this year’s enrollment to total 5,115 students, including early learning classes.

Lineburg said estimated enrollments for the next three years will decrease steadily. Next year’s student population is expected to number 5,029. In the 2019-20 school year, enrollment is estimated to be 4,916 students; in 2020-21, the number will decline further to around 4,860 students.

Lineburg also sought approval of a $392,500 loan from U.S. Bancorp to pay for five new propane buses from Clean Cities, which in turn is providing grant funding of $125,000 to partially pay for the buses. The loan carries a 2.028 percent interest rate and calls for an annual seven-year payment of $62,122,34,

Also, Debra Woltz updated trustees on plans for Career and Technical Education classes in coming years. Woltz said local businesses and industry largely will drive the selection of classes to be offered.

The school division faces challenges in having too many students work toward associate degrees while others are pulled out for SOL remediation. Woltz also said she is having a hard time finding qualified teachers to teach many of the courses.

Lineburg, saying he is anxious to begin budget planning early this year, named Gasperini and ED-1 trustee Orey Hill to lead the Finance Committee. Lineburg said he will be sending budget requests to each of the school’s departments this month with budget briefings to be held with each department head in November.

In other business, Keith McDowell of the school transportation department asked trustees to approve the sale of eight vehicles which have been termed “surplus properties.” The vehicles will be advertised for sale by sealed bid in the local newspapers.

Jennings also sought the board’s approval to purchase a 2012 Ford van from CrossRoads Ford of South Boston for $11,574. McDowell said the vehicle was “a good one” and trustees approved the purchase for the use of the maintenance department.

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