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Running the numbers

South Boston News
Scott Worner flashes a chart of amortization costs for a new high school during his presentation Monday night to the School Board. Worner, who presented information on three options for moderning HCHS — repair, renovate or replace — offered this balance sheet on the 30-year cost of a new school. Under the analysis, the newly passed county sales tax for education would cover the cost of a new high school building, if paired with existing money the school division uses to pay off debt service on past school building projects. The current debt service payments come to an end in 2027. (Liza Fulton photo) / January 16, 2020
“I want a new school, and I’ll go on record,” said school trustee Freddie Edmunds on Monday night following a lengthy presentation on options for modernizing Halifax County High School.

Monday night’s meeting of the School Board drew a large crowd to the Bethune Complex public meeting room, with some audience members standing in back of the room as Scott Worner, interim Director of Secondary Education, led a Powerpoint presentation on the pluses and minuses of three options for upgrading HCHS: repair, renovate or replace.

Drawing on extensive past studies of the high school, and reams of data on school construction projects throughout Virginia, Worner’s presentation outlined potential costs of anywhere from $63 million for the low-ball repair option to $107.3 million for a new school, not including financing expenses.

Aside from construction costs, the presentation also laid out the implications of any choice to repair or more extensively renovate the HCHS building. Operating cost savings would be greater with a new building, and construction work to upgrade the existing facility would force students into temporary mobile classrooms for a period of up to 12 months under a simple repair plan, and up to 40 months for a full facility renovation.

Worner defined the repair option as replacing the school’s 40-year-old plus HVAC, plumbing and electrical systems, along with its carpet, ceiling tiles, hardware, and giving the building a full paint job. The exterior of the building would require the repair or replacement of spalled and damaged brick, exterior windows, hardware and doors. Lastly, the building needs new equipment, fixtures and furnishings in the auditorium and gym, and a new sound system.

Spending $63 million to repair HCHS, the county would extend the useful life of the building by 15-20 years without fixing the structural design flaws such as 55 exterior doors, narrow hallways and seven building floors, Worner said.

With a choice to repair HCHS, roughly 76 percent of the building would be replaced, he noted.

With a plan to fully renovate the facility, 88 percent or perhaps the entire structure would end up being replaced by the time the work was finished, said Worner.

Large portions of the building would be torn down and rebuilt, but the option would still leave the school with major design flaws — including the large number of exterior floors, seven levels, and “disassociated departmentalization — especially in the CTE wing.”

A renovated facility would be less expensive to operate than a repaired HCHS. Under the repair option, school officials project annual operational savings of $325,000. With repair, operating costs at the high school would drop by $250,000.

The cost estimate for renovation — somewhere between $73.3 million and $88 million — does not include work to renovate or replace Tuck Dillard Stadium, which has not undergone extensive renovation since it opened in the mid-1960s.

Renovation would extend the life of the current building by some 25-30, according to Worner’s analysis.

The cost of a new high school facility is estimated at $107.3 million — a figure that includes construction costs of $82.9 million for the school building and athletic facilities, plus millions for various fees and furnishings.

A full replacement would solve HCHS’s myriad issues and lower annual operating costs by $450,000, while giving Halifax County a high school facility that would last 55 to 70 years, said Worner.

A new HCHS building and campus also would vastly improve upon the quality of the existing building, enhancing educational opportunities for students and giving Halifax County a facility it can be proud of, Worner added.

“Quality school facilities are important to student learning, but they also play a big role in establishing a community’s curb appeal and a substandard facility can be a critical blow for a community struggling to retain families and attract employers,” said Worner.

Edmunds, for one, said the presentation put forth a convincing case for a new facility.

“I’m all about saving money, but to repair or renovate is going to cost more before the deadline of the referendum,” said Edmunds.

The use of mobile units to house students during the period to repair or renovate the high school also drew concerns from trustees.

“Would the students eat in the mobile units?” asked Sandra Garner-Coleman, in lieu of going to the school cafeteria for meals.

However, newly elected School Board chair Todd Moser suggested the board should withhold judgment on the best approach for dealing with the high school until trustees can draw the Board of Supervisors in on a decision.

“This decision is not going to be fast, we need to think wholeheartily how this to decide the future of Halifax County,” said Moser.

Echoing information from Worner’s presentation, Edmunds also said the county cannot afford a long wait before it makes a decision on the high school. Based on Virginia Department of Education data, school construction costs are rising at an annual 6 percent clip.

“If we waste a lot of time talking, it will cost us an extra $415,000 a month and that would be $5 million in a year,” said Edmunds.

“We don’t have a lot of time,” he said.

School officials have opted to seek proposals for construction of a new school under Virginia’s Public-Private Education and Infrastructure Act of 2002. Under PPEA rules, consortiums that include architects, engineers and building contractors can develop design-build proposals without each part of the school project having to be bid out separately.

A key advantage of PPEAs, according to Superintendent of Schools Mark Lineburg, is that building costs can be locked in at the start of construction. One major disadvantage of renovation or repair options, noted Worner, is that the work can uncover hidden problems with a building, sending costs soaring.

“We can get a guarantee lock-in cost on the new school,” said Edmunds.

Moses added, “I feel the Board of Supervisors should have the majority of input. We need to wait for them to put together a committee, then see their entire 30-year plan for Halifax County.”

While the School Board and Board of Supervisors have agreed to form a joint six-member committee to study the path forward for the high school, Edmunds suggested that all members of both boards should be directly involved in the review process. “We all should meet with the Board of Supervisors,” he said.

“We are going to be respectful and work with the Board of Supervisors on this,” Lineburg concluded.

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Take a third of that and just remodel and fix up then we won't need to go in debt. Fancy building does not improve education.



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