Committee to address construction concerns

Published 1:15 am Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Beaufort County’s public school leaders hope to iron out differences with county leaders by the end of next week over school construction spending so some of the needed projects can begin.

A three-member committee comprised of Beaufort County Board of Education members Mike Isbell, E.C. Peed and Terry Williams plans to meet with members of the Beaufort County Board of Commissioners to discuss differences in the list of school building projects for the 2011-2012 fiscal year. School board member Eltha S. Booth was appointed as an alternate committee member.

The school board members were appointed during a meeting of a school board committee charged with overseeing the school system’s buildings, grounds and finances.

The meeting with the county leaders is needed because that panel, for the first time in memory, approved a list of school construction projects as part of the county’s 2011-2012 budget.

The commissioners’ list differs from a list of school construction projects deemed necessary by the school board when that panel approved its 2011-2012 capital projects budget.

“This has never happened before,” said school board Chairman Robert Belcher. “We have never had them present us with a list and say this is what you’re going to do.”

When they approved their spending plan for the county in late June, the commissioners trimmed $461,000 from the school’s construction budget.

The cuts reduced the school’s capital budget to $476,860 although the plan also calls for the county to appropriate any funds from the North Carolina Lottery – estimated by county officials to be about $562,140 – to the school system for construction projects.

The county board also called for the creation of a subcommittee of county commissioners and school leaders to meet to discuss some of the more expensive items in the county school construction budget including roof repairs and replacements at Bath Elementary and Chocowinity Middle schools, a drainage system at Northeast Elementary School, a front entrance canopy at Northside High School and a freshwater pump system at Washington High School.

Following that vote by the county commissioners, school leaders met earlier this month to pare down their list of construction projects in light of the reduction in that budget.

But there is a difference of $42,997.36 between the two budgets, according to information given to school board members, with some projects given more funding by the county commissioners than the school board and others given more funding by school leaders than county officials.

The budget approved by the school board includes $40,000 for installation of a roof at Chocowinity Primary School but county leaders voted not to include the project in the school system’s $1,138,200 capital projects budget.

The county’s construction list for the schools also generally includes more money for campus security and safety hardware than the budget approved by school leaders.

Other projects not on the county-approved list include upgrades to the heating and air conditioning system at the Ed Tech Center, installation of carpet in the band room at Chocowinity Middle School, upgrades to the telephone and public address system at John Cotten Tayloe Elementary School, installation of a shade awning and fire-proofing the curtains at Northeast Elementary School, glass enclosures for the gymnasium windows at S.W. Snowden Elementary School and a project to evaluate the chillers in use at schools in the system.

School leaders said the confusion over which construction projects have been given the go-ahead, is, in part, responsible for delays in the start of several projects which school leaders hoped to have completed by the beginning of the new school year, which starts Aug. 25.

While Superintendent of Schools Don Phipps said he assumes that the school system can begin with work on those projects approved by both panels, other school leaders aren’t so sure.

A project to replace aging windows at Eastern Elementary School with more energy efficient ones, at an estimated cost of $111,300 is one of the projects on hold, for now, while school leaders get the clearance for it to begin.

“The windows at Eastern Elementary need to already be started,” Belcher said. “Right now, we don’t have permission to proceed on anything.”

In other business, the committee tabled action on a proposal by Terracon of Winterville to complete a survey of school building roofs and develop a five-year plan for roof replacement and repairs at a cost of $28,000.

The county commissioners had asked that such a survey be done, the committee members were told. But some committee members expressed concern about the cost of the project.

The committee members agreed to discuss its cost with the county commissioners when the two groups meet to talk about the school system’s construction budget