Friday, April 19, 2024

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$25M in repairs, spending requests outlined by school officials; another $56.5M coming in years after


Alamance-Burlington school system officials have identified more than $25 million in building repairs and maintenance that they say will be needed during the upcoming fiscal year that begins July 1.

School board members were presented with a list of dozens of building maintenance projects that ABSS administrators say are needed at 23 schools during the 2023-24 fiscal year.

Funding would come from the county commissioners’ annual allocation for school building repairs and maintenance, as well as a portion of the local sales tax revenue that the commissioners are responsible for allocating to ABSS, based on a presentation school board members heard Monday night (see accompanying chart for a breakdown of maintenance needs identified for 2023-24).

[Story continues below graphic showing maintenance and repair needs being proposed for fiscal year 2023-24.]

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All of the newly-identified repair and maintenance needs would be on top of the renovations that remain in progress at eight existing schools, as well as the construction of Southeast High School in Swepsonville, along N.C. Highway 119, which are being funded by proceeds from the $150 million bond package voters approved for ABSS in 2018 (see separate story, this edition).

Meanwhile, Alamance County’s commissioners have signaled their intent to allocate $3.3 million in capital funding to ABSS for the upcoming 2023-24 fiscal year – and to possibly carve out a portion of those funds in order to repair ballfields at one of three elementary schools (Altamahaw-Ossipee, E.M. Holt, and B. Everett Jordan) where upgrades are planned over the next three years.

Greg Hook, who is the chief operations officer for ABSS, told the board Monday night that he began developing a list of “things that I would call priorities,” after he started work in that position last month, succeeding former COO Dr. Todd Thorpe.

Hook said he plans to present a “four-year capital reserves plan” and a “five-year pay-go plan” to the county commissioners in the coming weeks. What Hook termed the capital reserves plan includes repairs that would be funded by a portion of the local sales tax proceeds that are designated for school building maintenance and which flow through the county; the “pay-go” plan includes projects that would be funded by the county’s yearly allocation to ABSS for maintenance and repairs.

Additionally, the “four-year capital reserves plan” for ABSS includes $56,575,000 in future school expansion, school safety, and athletic facility projects, which Hook said “are not for any [specific] year,” but which he urged the school board to start planning for.

Those future expansion needs and upgrades include: $47 million for additions at four ABSS schools, where Hook said enrollment is nearing capacity; $3.9 million for school safety; and $5.7 million in athletic facility upgrades (see accompanying chart).

[Story continues below list of ABSS future expansion and repair needs.]

“Elon [Elementary School] is completely full, and we expect a lot more students in that area in the future,” Hook said.

As of the end of the first month of the current school year, there were 666 students enrolled at Elon Elementary School, which has a stated capacity of 750 students, according to ABSS enrollment figures, though that data wasn’t presented to the board Monday night.

Other schools where Hook said enrollment is nearing capacity include:
• Alexander Wilson Elementary, which had 609 students enrolled at the end of the first month of school, versus a stated capacity for 669 students;
• Eastlawn Elementary School, which had 560 students enrolled at the end of the first month of school, versus a stated capacity of 596 students; and
• Woodlawn Middle School, which had 576 students enrolled at the end of the first month of school, versus a stated capacity for a maximum of 650 students.

Hook said that the campus at Alexander Wilson has “nowhere to put a classroom,” and its school administration is requesting mobile units. Eastlawn Elementary School is also requesting a classroom addition, Hook said, adding that its campus doesn’t have an area that would be sufficient to accommodate a mobile unit.

Woodlawn Middle School, on the other hand, is apparently slated to have a mobile unit installed, which Hook said “would be in place in December, midway through the next [2023-24] school year.”

“It’s quite tight,” the COO said, adding, “there’s a lot of construction in that area.”

Hook told the board that the school safety projects – such as installation of security vestibules – would take three years to complete and would be paid for with county capital reserve funding (i.e., local sales tax proceeds).

School board member Dan Ingle asked Hook whether he had received any reports of doors not locking earlier this month when Williams High School was placed on a lockdown, due to a report of a possible gun on campus that turned out to be false.

“Have the locks been fixed?” Ingle asked.

“We think they have been,” Hook said. “I was made aware on the Thursday before spring break [April 6] about interiors not locking. I called the principal [who said she] had no reports of doors not locking. I’m not saying something didn’t happen [but] she wasn’t made aware.”

Hook subsequently told The Alamance News Monday night that his office has received no work orders to repair broken door locks at Williams High School before or since Williams High School was placed on an hourlong lockdown on Wednesday, April 5.

“I’m good with all of this,” school board vice chairman Ryan Bowden summarized later in the discussion. “The one request I would like is, can we evaluate for the future [a request that the board has heard since 2018 to repair the softball field at Western High School]? I would like staff to give us a report [to determine whether we can] make this a reality or not.”

Ingle and school board member Donna Westbrooks both said that Western and Williams are the only ABSS high schools that don’t have a usable softball field.

Also penciled into the list of long-range athletic upgrades is $300,000 apiece to repair tennis courts at Eastern and Southern High schools.

School board members had previously voted in March 2017 to use approximately $217,000 in lottery proceeds to repair the tennis courts at Eastern ($35,000), Southern ($37,000) and Western High School ($145,000), under contracts subsequently awarded to Carolina Courtworks of Charlotte.

ABSS officials had not responded by press time to an Alamance News inquiry Monday night about why the tennis courts at Eastern and Southern High schools needed to be repaired again, particularly given that the courts wouldn’t have been used during the 2020 and 2021 seasons due to the school shutdown from March 2020 until March 2021, amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

Hook’s update on the capital funding needs for ABSS had not been listed on the school board’s meeting agenda as a voting item.

However, the board did vote 6-0 to authorize the school system’s administrators to ask Alamance County’s commissioners to reallocate a portion of $14.8 million in unspent proceeds from the $150 million bond package that voters approved in 2018 to other projects (see related story, this edition).

School board members also voted 6-0 to ask the county commissioners next week to release $400,000 in proceeds from the state education lottery to go toward replacing the track at Cummings High School.

Four-term incumbent school board member Patsy Simpson was absent from the meeting; she submitted her letter of resignation from the board, effective immediately, on Saturday (see separate story, this edition).

See story on Patsy Simpson’s resignation:

Read the newspaper’s editorial page opinion on the school system’s budget projections for repairs, maintenance, and expansion:

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