QUESTION: Why did ABSS ask to move money from a masonry repair project that hadn’t started to another driveway repair project that hasn’t been approved? And why was the request to shift funding pulled from a commissioners’ meeting agenda at the last minute?
ANSWER: Alamance-Burlington school system officials say that the request to move $130,150 from the budget for the masonry repairs at Haw River Elementary School to a driveway repair project at E.M. Holt Elementary was removed from the agenda for the commissioners’ meeting on July 17 because the request hadn’t followed the proper oversight processes.
By way of background: school board members had voted 6-0 at their meeting on June 26 to award a $299,412.84 contract to Exterior Diagnostic Services (EDS Waterproofing & Restoration) of Apex to repair the masonry at Haw River Elementary School.
ABSS officials – and then-county commissioners – had discussed the need to repair the masonry at Haw River Elementary School since at least May 2016, when a joint school facilities task force toured the elementary school and observed firsthand the mortar pulling away from the brick as a result of moisture settling between the bricks and exterior wall structure.
On June 28, two days after the school board voted to award the contract to EDS, ABSS chief operations officer Greg Hook submitted a request to Alamance County finance officer Susan Evans to transfer funds from the masonry project to an E.M. Holt driveway repair project.
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The Apex contractor (EDS) was scheduled to begin work last week on the masonry repairs at Haw River Elementary School, Hook confirmed for the newspaper last Wednesday. The majority of the repairs “will be completed before students return to school,” he said. “Any remaining work will be done after school hours so as not to disturb the learning environment.”
Evans subsequently provided a summary of Hook’s request to shift funds from the Haw River project to the E.M. Holt project for the commissioners, which was included in their agenda packet for their July 17 meeting. Evans relayed that the bids for project at E.M. Holt, originally estimated at $1.2 million, had come in $130,150 over budget; and the contract for the Haw River project, originally estimated at $575,000, had come in at $228,587 below budget.
The estimated cost to repair the masonry at Haw River Elementary School has fluctuated several times over the past two fiscal years. Monthly capital finance reports, which are compiled and posted online by Alamance County government, show that the cost for the masonry repairs had been estimated at $364,772 as of June 30, 2022; that figure had increased to $575,000, as of June 30 of this year.
The $211,000 increase in the budget for the masonry repairs at Haw River Elementary was part of a broader request that ABSS submitted to the commissioners last fall. The commissioners voted 5-0 on October 17, 2022 to let ABSS draw $8 million in capital reserve funding in order to cover rising costs in ongoing repairs and renovations to school facilities, which included an extra $210,277 for the Haw River project and an extra $740,000 for the E.M. Holt driveway project.
Hook confirmed last week that the request had been placed on the commissioners’ consent agenda for their July 17 meeting because ABSS “needed to quickly move funds to be able to accept a contract for E.M. Holt.”
School board chairman Sandy Ellington-Graves told the newspaper last week that Hook had indicated in an email to Alamance County manager Heidi York that, if placement on the consent agenda “was not possible, he would need to wait and present it” to the school board, as well as to a county technical review committee (TRC) and Capital Oversight Committee (OSC) before making a formal presentation to the commissioners on the request to shift funds between the two repair projects.
Yet the school board has neither considered nor awarded a contract for the driveway project at E.M. Holt Elementary School, Hook confirmed late last Wednesday for The Alamance News.
Based on the chain of events that Ellington-Graves recounted for the newspaper, Hook informed school board members on June 22 – four days before they voted 6-0 to award the contract for the masonry project – that Alamance County officials had agreed to place the request to shift funds (from Haw River to E.M. Holt) on the commissioners’ consent agenda for July 17.
On July 13, Hook was “alerted that the consent agenda was item was pulled” and placed on the regular business agenda for the commissioners’ meeting on July 17, according to the school board’s chairman.
The following day, on July 14, ABSS asked the county manager to remove the item entirely until the school board, TRC, and OSC “can be briefed with project details and [the funding] request to ensure proper protocols are followed,” based on the timeline that Ellington-Graves recounted last week for the newspaper.
Alamance County commissioner Bill Lashley confirmed last week in an interview that he had asked for the item to be removed from the commissioners’ consent agenda and placed on the regular business agenda for their meeting on July 17.
“The first reason is [this] is another example of the school system moving money away from a project before it’s completed,” Lashley told The Alamance News. “The second reason is I thought this would be a great [opportunity] for the school system to come in front of us and tell us a little bit about the project, considering that [it] is seven years old. I wanted someone to explain themselves; they seem very unwilling to explain themselves when things get tight.”
At the commissioners’ meeting on July 17, Lashley cast the lone vote against a motion to remove the request from the agenda, which passed 3-1.
“I don’t really care what the total is,” Lashley elaborated. “I don’t care if it’s $13.42 for postage; if it has to do with finances, it needs to be discussed so we won’t find ourselves holding the bag for the school system again…They can’t get a project done in seven years, and they have the audacity to ask us to switch money. How can they tell us they have [a budget surplus] when the project’s not finished?”
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