School board lists building priorities

Dec. 11, 2013 @ 05:01 AM

The Lee County Board of Education met Tuesday night to outline its top 10 priorities for construction or repair projects over the next five years. Two new elementary schools and wide-ranging renovations on the county’s older middle schools accounted for most of the proposed work.

The board voted unanimously to request the funding — totaling about $46.8 million through 2019 — from the Lee County Board of Commissioners. Charlie Parks, chairman of the commissioners, was in attendance Tuesday but didn’t speak publicly. In North Carolina, public school capital projects must be funded by local government or by state lottery funds, which have increasingly been assigned to non-construction uses by the General Assembly to make up for budget cuts elsewhere.

John Bonardi, who leads the school board’s Facilities and Technology Subcommittee, acknowledged the high price tag yet defended the request.

“We can’t turn a blind eye to a need just because we feel uncomfortable asking for the funding for that need,” he said.

Fellow school board members Tamara Brogan and Dr. Lynn Smith, the board’s chairman, both called the plan visionary, especially in reference to the inclusion of a second new elementary school proposed to be built toward the end of the five-year period in order to account for future growth. The first new elementary school would only create enough classrooms to bring every existing elementary school down to about 100 percent capacity.

Building the two new schools would cost more than $30 million.

But before getting into those costly projects, the two top priorities for Lee County Schools are installing new heat systems at East Lee and West Lee middle schools. East Lee’s work, if approved, would begin in the 2014-15 fiscal year and West Lee is scheduled for the 2015-16 fiscal year.

The two projects combined are projected to cost about $3.2 million, although the funding request said the energy efficient systems will save enough in operating costs to pay for themselves in three to four years. The current systems haven’t been updated since the two schools were built in 1978 and are reportedly “in critical failure mode.”

Following those projects is $5 million to improve safety, sanitation and aesthetics at East Lee and West Lee — including restroom updates, fresh coats of paint, asbestos removal, ceiling repairs, new energy efficient windows and doors, fire alarm system upgrades, gym bleacher replacements and assorted new furniture.

Coming in at fifth and sixth on the list are a new elementary school at the site of the old Jonesboro Elementary campus and a $1 million replacement of the decades-old HVAC system in Lee County High School’s auditorium. The district is requesting $15.75 million from 2015 to 2017 for the new elementary school.

Next were expansions of the gyms at West Lee and East Lee, scheduled for 2017-18 and 2018-19, at $1 million each, followed by the $3 million construction of an auditorium at Southern Lee High School in 2018-19 and beyond. Rounding out the list is the construction of another new elementary school, also scheduled for 2018-19 and beyond, at an estimated $16.85 million.

The board also:

* Unanimously approved beginning an energy efficiency analysis in advance of some of the capital projects focused on energy.

* Unanimously approved minor spring calendar changes for high school seniors only, to be able to keep graduation on the same weekend despite recent statewide shifts in the school year. Superintendent Andy Bryan said it’s “so we comply with all the necessary laws and also comply with tradition.”

* Unanimously approved policy changes for graduating seniors, both lowering the weight that tests taken at the end of the year have on a student’s eligibility to graduate and approving new seals which can be affixed to students’ diplomas — which will declare them college-ready, career-ready or both, depending on courses taken and passed.

* Received a favorable report from Dale Smith, an outside consultant who audited the district’s finances and said: “Overall, it was a very good, very clean audit. ... I don’t get to do these kind of presentations very much, where there’s little to report.”

* Discussed bringing a leadership program into the elementary schools based on Stephen Covey’s famous book, “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.” Board member Wendy Carlyle said she was working at Lee County High School years ago when a similar program was introduced for rising ninth graders, and she’d be thrilled to see students get an even earlier exposure to it.

* Scheduled a Jan. 17 awards ceremony for The Head of Class. The time and location of the ceremony, as well as the winners, will be announced later.

* Heard presentations from fifth graders at B.T. Bullock Elementary School, who sang patriotic Christmas songs, and from Lee Early College’s new drama club, which recently held its first-ever performance when it put on a play written by club president Austin Dowdy, a sophomore.

* Presented the Webpage of the Month award to Jennifer Buchanan, a fifth grade teacher from J. Glenn Edwards Elementary School.

* Presented the Clean School of the Month award to the custodians at Greenwood Elementary School.