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Halifax County faces costly tab for ADA updates / June 26, 2014
Halifax County supervisors and school trustees gathered on Monday night to talk about ways to lower the cost of local government and prepare for expenses that are looming in the near future.

By having both county and school employees covered under a consolidated health care insurance plan, officials say Halifax County has the possibility of saving slightly more than $1 million in the upcoming budget.

Much of the savings would be transferred to the school’s budget to cover increases in health care premiums. The positive news is offset by an inspection undertaken recently by federal officials with the Office of Civil Rights, who have ordered an estimated $313,000 in renovations to be done at Halifax County High School to bring the 35-year-old building in compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA).

Superintendent of Schools Dr. Merle Herndon said that her office will file a plan for improvements at the high school by the July 1 deadline, showing what will be done to bring the school into compliance.

Of the 14 areas in need of improvement, the most expensive is the remodeling of the restrooms in the main lobby, locker rooms and C-wing at an estimated cost of $125,000 with a 15-week time line for getting the work done.

Other expenses include:

$43,500 to pave and mark seven regular and two van parking spaces in the faculty parking lot with proper signage

$30,000 to provide 26 ADA accessible seats in the gym

$25,000 to provide ADA accessible seats in the auditorium.

$30,000 for modifying interior ramps to an accessible slope

$18,000 to adjust doorways and entryways to make them disabled-accessible.

It is estimated to cost another $17,500 to replace one-half of the water fountains throughout the entire building. There are various other smaller costs ranging from $6,000 to $1,000 each.

While 15 weeks is the longest time cited for carrying out the work, Herndon said she will ask for an extension in order “to have time to do these things right.”

Also discussing facilities, maintenance director Jay Jennings reported that renovations to the STEM Center have progressed well with completion expected well before the Aug. 1 deadline.

In reviewing the potential for a consolidated health care plan for county and school employees, county administrator Jim Halasz explained that he and staff members had met with Patsy Akridge, who is the health care consultant for both the county and the schools. A consolidated plan would include a total of 1,006 employees, 815 from the schools and 191 from the county.

Currently the school pays $521 of the monthly premiums while the county pays $679. By having the consolidation and the number or participants increase, Halasz said he feels the county can attract more bidders and possibly better prices for health care coverage.

He also said he hopes to put out a request for proposals for health care insurance in December, followed by a joint meeting with school administrators in February or March to review those bids. Then, they can decide if the two could consolidate their plans.

It is his hope that a new consolidated health plan can be in place by July 1, 2015 after the county and schools work together to iron out all the details.

On a final note, Herndon reviewed the results of a compensation study recently completed by school board members Phyllis Smith and Roger Long. Out of the 132 school divisions across the state, Halifax County ranked near the bottom at 125th.

Among the surrounding school systems, Halifax County is at the very bottom, she noted. “There’s nothing we can do about this right now,” the superintendent said. Smith added, “we have positions in math that we cannot fill. We’re getting desperate.”

Following a later closed session during which the school board considered personnel changes, two new math teachers were named — William Curtis and Meagan Smith, who will be teaching at the Halifax County Middle School. Also announced was the transfer of middle school teacher Lori Meadows to the high school math department.

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