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School board will seek another $9 million from county commissioners

Alamance-Burlington school board members voted unanimously, 6-0, Monday night (October 23) to authorize the school system’s administrators to ask Alamance County’s commissioners to provide $9 million in funding for building repairs and maintenance for the current 2023-24 fiscal year in order for ABSS to recoup its costs for mold remediation.

The presence of mold was confirmed this summer at 32 schools, plus the ABSS Central Office on Vaughn Road in Burlington, prompting school officials to delay the start of the new school year by two weeks, until September 11.

The cost for mold remediation and related testing totaled $26.2 million, based on a final tally of invoices that was presented to school board members Monday night.

The expenses for mold remediation include: $22.6 million for mold removal; $563,717.86 for third-party mold testing; and $3 million for dehumidifier rentals.

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The total tab for mold remediation, however, that was presented Monday night excludes an additional cost of $977,719.86 that the school board approved two weeks ago to purchase 330 dehumidifiers from Sasser Restoration in Whitsett.

That purchase will be funded by a portion of the Covid-19 federal stimulus money that ABSS received since March 2020.  The 330 dehumidifiers will be placed in schools to mitigate high levels of humidity that ABSS officials have recently attributed to problems with HVAC equipment.

ABSS chief finance officer Kim McVey reminded school board members that, in order to fund the mold remediation, the commissioners had authorized the use of $3.3 million in annual county capital funding, which they had previously allocated to ABSS for the current fiscal year; $1 million in state education lottery proceeds; and $16.2 million in capital reserve funding, for a total of $20.5 million.

McVey said Monday night that a total of $5.7 million in county funding is needed in order to cover the outstanding invoices for mold remediation.

ABSS chief operations officer Greg Hook said the total county funding request of $9,000,515.71 includes “reinstatement of ‘PayGo’ funds,” i.e., the $3.3 million in capital funding that the county allocated to ABSS for building repairs and maintenance for the current fiscal year, in addition to covering the remaining costs for mold remediation.

Hook recalled Monday night that, this spring, school board members had approved a number of building repair projects; and many contracts had already been awarded before the mold crisis upended all of those planned projects (see accompanying chart for a breakdown).

“We had $1.2 [million] already locked up in [purchase orders] to cover [security]cameras at the middle schools, the key cards at the middle schools, and lots of other planned and unplanned things,” Hook said.

School board vice chairman Ryan Bowden questioned why ABSS is responsible for paying $60,000 to replace a fire hydrant that serves Broadview Middle and Cummings High School.  “We should push that a little bit, because that’s a city responsibility,” he said Monday night.

Hook told the board that ABSS is requesting that the commissioners restore the “PayGo,” funding (i.e., the county’s annual allocation of $3.3 million for building repairs and maintenance) because “we desperately need it.”  As of September 1, ABSS had no money left in that account as a result of the costs for mold remediation, based on figures that were presented to school board members Monday night.

“Part of that $3.3 million has already been committed,” ABSS deputy superintendent Lowell Rogers emphasized during the discussion.

“We’re asking for consensus or some kind of vote to go to the oversight committee meeting on Thursday to ask their blessing,” superintendent Dr. Dain Butler added.

The capital oversight committee – which includes officials from Alamance County government, ABSS representatives, and Alamance Community College officials – was established in early 2019 to oversee the building repair and renovation projects funded by the $189.6 million bond package that voters approved for ABSS and ACC in November 2018.  That group meets five times a year to evaluate capital projects and expenses.

If approved by the oversight committee, the school system’s administrators would present the $9 million funding request to the county commissioners at their next meeting on November 4.

School board member Chuck Marsh said Monday night that the commissioners had agreed to restore funding that ABSS had used for mold remediation during one of the three joint meetings that the two boards held during the last week of August.

“We were purposely trying to wait until we got the final invoices,” Rogers added. “We’ve heard about making sure they’re true numbers.”

School board member Dan Ingle introduced a motion to approve the funding request, which was seconded by Donna Westbrooks, and passed 6-0.

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