Wednesday, December 8, 2021

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ABSS proposes spending nearly $400K to buy and renovate a used trailer for offices

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Alamance-Burlington school board members have delayed voting on a proposal by the ABSS administration to spend $390,275 to buy a used modular unit that would be installed behind Eastlawn Elementary School and used to relocate approximately 30 employees whose offices are currently located at Sellars-Gunn Education Center in Burlington.

The school system’s administration is proposing to install the modular unit behind a line of pine trees near the back of the campus of Eastlawn Elementary School at 502 North Graham-Hopedale Road, adjacent to the school system’s central office in east Burlington, school board members were told at their latest work session Tuesday afternoon.

The total price tag for the used mobile unit, which spans 112 feet by 76 feet, includes a purchase price of $83,600, plus $40,855 for delivery and set-up; $15,820 to install footings that may be required by the city of Burlington; and an estimated cost of $250,000 for renovations, ABSS assistant superintendent Dr. Todd Thorpe told school board members this week.

The cost for footings would be higher than typical footings for a similar structure, Thorpe told school board members during their latest work session Tuesday afternoon. He said the modular unit is approximately 11 years old and had been used for 10 years as office space on a community college campus, which he didn’t name, until it was disassembled.

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Thorpe acknowledged that the mobile unit “would take some work” but estimated that it has another 20 years of useful life. “It is a heavy-duty model, not just a cheap model,” he said Tuesday afternoon.

The renovations would include installing underpinning, steps, and a handicap-accessible ramp, as well as upgrades to the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) and fire alarms, Thorpe explained.

School board member Patsy Simpson, who participated in the meeting by phone, asked Thorpe if he’d researched all of the “stick-built” buildings that are for sale in the surrounding area to see whether they could be purchased for a similar price. The assistant superintendent said he’d been unable to find any such properties.

“We found some buildings that would take a lot of renovations to make it work for what we need it to work for, and/or parking has been a major issue,” Thorpe said.

ABSS deputy superintendent of student learning Dr. Angela Bost assured school board members that the employees who are currently based at Sellars-Gunn are amenable to the possibility of moving into a modular unit. The former alternative school for ABSS, Sellars-Gunn Education Center has fallen into disrepair due to roof leaks and subsequent structural damage in recent years.

If the board approves the proposed purchase, Bost said the ABSS administration “will work with staff on details” concerning the relocation. “Once it’s been updated, [this] will meet the needs they’ve expressed,” she said Tuesday afternoon. “Dr. Thorpe and I know the environments they’ve expressed they would like to be in.”

Thorpe estimates that it would take about six months, depending on weather and other factors, to renovate the modular unit and relocate employees from Sellars-Gunn.

Approximately 75 employees are currently based at Sellars-Gunn, Thorpe confirmed for school board members this week. Approximately 20 or 25 employees would be left at Sellars-Gunn, including staff for the Alamance Virtual School and “curriculum leads,” Thorpe said Tuesday.

ABSS is already planning to move about 30 employees in the Exceptional Children’s (EC) and pre-Kindergarten (pre-K) programs from Sellars-Gunn to a vacant office building at 1211 Main Street in Burlington. School board members voted last month to lease the office building along Main Street for $82,140 per year through September 30, 2023.

In addition to the EC and Pre-K staff, several other divisions that provide services for students with disabilities are currently based at Sellars-Gunn, based on information that was provided for the board’s latest discussion. The employees who would be moved to the modular unit include: a lead physical therapist; pre-K therapist; assistive technician; pre-K occupational therapy; program lead for deaf/hearing-impaired services; pre-K speech/language pathologist; and a speech/language pathologist who serves private schools and homeschool students.

“When will this board discuss the long-range plan for Sellars-Gunn if we are, in fact, moving the employees [who] are there?” Simpson asked Tuesday. “Will the administration provide us with some type of plan that they are proposing?”

“Obviously, we have to have a plan,” school board chairman Allison Gant said in asking the administration to “bring back something” for a future discussion.

“We’ve asked that before,” school board member Sandy Ellington-Graves pointed out, referring to a request she made in July for a cost analysis of what it would take to renovate Sellars-Gunn versus the cost for moving to one or more different locations.

“I’m really struggling with this one,” school board member Donna Westbrooks said Tuesday afternoon. “I don’t like the quality of them. I don’t like the looks of them; I don’t like how they make the whole campus of a school look.”

“This gives us an opportunity to make an investment,” Thorpe said, “and at least get a long-term service out of it.” He added a caveat: he doesn’t know whether the seller has another prospective buyer. It would cost far more to buy one of several existing commercial properties that the board had considered this summer, the assistant superintendent insisted.

“The buildings we’re finding, we would have to put [in] a large amount of money – a couple or three hundred thousand dollars, and we’re just going to be leasing the building,” Thorpe said Tuesday.

“I would hate to see us lose it,” school board member Wayne Beam said after Gant asked her fellow board members whether they wanted to vote on the proposal. “I hate to see us lose it, if some people might really be interested in it, unless some [board members] really have a problem with it.”

“I understand what you’re saying,” said school board member Ryan Bowden. “If we do lose it, it wasn’t meant to be.”

School board members have agreed to resume their discussion at their next meeting in two weeks.

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