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Mecklenburg school board eyes $3.6 million for ongoing maintenance / February 20, 2019

The Mecklenburg County School Board will seek funding for a five-year, $3.6 million capital improvement plan for elementary school facilities and for ongoing maintenance of the four county secondary school buildings after they are vacated with the anticipated opening of Mecklenburg’s consolidated middle school-high school complex in fall 2021.

Director of Operations Brian Dalton unveiled the proposal during a special meeting of the School Board’s capital committee on Thursday.

The entire $3.6 million is not being sought up front, but spread out over five years. Contingent upon approval by the Mecklenburg County Board of Supervisors, the capital improvement plan will allow the school division to fix some of the worst problems at the older elementary buildings, and stave off decay of the emptied Bluestone and Park View buildings once those schools are consolidated at the new Baskerville campus for grades six-12.

The aim is to avoid the sort of problems that beset the Buckhorn Elementary building when that school was shuttered. As pointed out by trustee Glenn Edwards, after the students were transferred out of Buckhorn, no maintenance was done at the site. Portions of the roof collapsed, other parts developed leaks, and the heat was shut off, causing major deterioration of the building.

The county division may need to use old high school or middle school buildings in the future if renovations take place at elementary facilities, noted Superintendent of Schools Paul Nichols.

Supervisors have indicated their willingness to pay for upgrades and renovations to elementary schools once construction is completed on the combined secondary campus. Depending on the extent of the work, elementary students may need to be temporarily relocated to the empty secondary school sites while renovations are under way at their schools. Therefore, upkeep on the existing secondary school facilities must continue, Nichols said.

Dalton said the five-year plan includes maintenance for the new secondary school campus because he does not want to fall behind with repairs — a problem that has plagued the division in the past with its existing buildings. It’s much cheaper to maintain than to repair, Dalton explained.

The School Board plans to ask for $836,400 in fiscal year 2020, which begins June 1. The following fiscal year, 2020-21, the board will request $608,150. In FY 2022, the School Board will budget an amount between $424,200 and $859,467, depending on the start date for renovations to the elementary schools. In 2023 the plan calls for between $791,640 and $854,640, again depending on whether there is elementary school construction, and in 2024 it calls for between $307,875 and $397,125, depending on the scope of renovations.

These annual figures include a $50,000 per year emergency contingency fund to pay for unplanned or must-do improvements without the need to seek additional appropriations from the Board of Supervisors.

As proposed, the capital improvement plan will:

» provide a working blueprint for sustaining and improving the school division’s infrastructure;

» identify, prioritize and optimize the financing of capital projects throughout the division over a five-year period;

» synchronize capital and operating budgets; and

» inform the public about the county’s investment in school division infrastructure.

Dalton said he will work with the school board to update the capital improvement plan on an annual basis, in tandem with the development of the school division’s operating budget. When feasible, end-of-year unspent funds, grants, and community donations will be used to offset the cost of the capital projects.

As the plan moves into fiscal years 2022 and beyond, many of the items scheduled for upgrade or repair are designated as “renovation dependent,” meaning the money might not be spent that year or at all. For example, if the Board of Supervisors appropriates funds to renovate Chase City Elementary School and work commenced in fiscal year 2022, then Dalton said he does not anticipate spend the budgeted $41,400 to paint the halls and student restrooms at the school. Money for painting would come from the construction budget.

Many of the projects Dalton identified for the first year, fiscal year 2020, are considered high priority due to safety concerns. For instance, he said, there are a number of dead and unsafe trees at both Chase City and Clarksville elementary schools. These trees need to be removed before they damage the building, either by falling on the building or the roots invading and damaging the foundations of these schools. The roots from these trees already have wreaked havoc on sewer lines at Clarksville Elementary, he said.

Dalton also is asking for money to replace the existing HVAC controls in all four secondary school buildings as well as the central office. These Honeywell BAS controls are obsolete. The manufacturer is no longer able to find parts to repair them, Dalton explained, adding that if they fail, the buildings will be left without a reliable heat source.

Even after students move into their new school facility in Baskerville, the current buildings will still require some heat until a decision is made on what will be done with them.

The school division also needs to purchase some technology now that can be moved into the new secondary school building at a later time. Dalton said the best example of this is the 53 ActivPanels he is seeking for the Technology Department. These interactive educational display boards, affixed to the front of each classroom, replace old and broken Promethean Boards. They are portable and can be reinstalled at the new school once it is built.

In other business, high school athletic directors, coaches, and principals took part in a discussion of the latest architectural design for a weight room and practice wrestling room for the new consolidated high school. The staff members reviewed the designs with Nichols, Dalton, Edwards and director of secondary education Jeff Scales. As drawn, the weight room would have 2,823 square feet of space and the wrestling room 1,824 square feet. The current wrestling room at Bluestone High School has just over 1,300 square feet and is more than adequate, according to participants in the discussion.

An earlier design had the weight room and wrestling room combined in a single 3,500 square foot space. Trustee Dale Sturdifen had called this plan unworkable and asked lead school architect Billy Upton to rethink the design.

Scales, who before coming to Mecklenburg County served as a high school principal and athletic director at a high school in Cumberland County, said he felt that since the wrestling room would only be used for practice — competitions would take place in the main gym — the space was sufficient. Park View Principal Wesley Swain noted that the new design created a room that could also be used for cheerleading practice during the wrestling off-season. At present the cheerleaders must share space in the gymnasium or practice outdoors.

It was agreed that the new design would be recommended for approval by the School Board at their monthly meeting on Feb. 18.

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