School inventory outlines construction needs

Published 12:09 am Wednesday, February 15, 2012

A long-awaited inventory of the county’s public school buildings was presented last week to county and education leaders who said it would help them plan for and prioritize school-construction needs.

Some of those leaders said more work is needed to understand long-term needs for school-construction dollars.

“This is a very good planning document,” said Hood Richardson, a Beaufort County commissioner and a member of a committee that oversaw the study. “It’s going to be very useful to the commissioners and to the schools.”

The study was conducted by Hite Associates, a Greenville architecture, engineering and technology firm. It was presented to the county commissioners last week by James G. Hite, the company’s president, and Ann Williams, an associate with the firm.

Before the meeting, Hite and Williams briefed the local news media and a group of public school leaders — including Beaufort County Schools Superintendent Don Phipps and Beaufort County Board of Education Chairman Mac Hodges — about the inventory.

While the study “answers some questions,” it “begs some questions that should be asked,” Phipps said in an interview with the Daily News after the briefing.

The inventory will help “validate” the school system’s construction needs, but county leaders also need information on the county’s population trends to adequately understand the long-term needs of the county’s public schools, Phipps said.

“We don’t have a complete picture without that,” he said.

When the inventory was being planned in late 2010 and early 2011, school leaders had hoped that a study of future demographic trends would be included. But, in meetings about the study, some county leaders questioned whether that information would be worth the expense.

The school inventory is one of two studies on school-construction needs recently completed.

A survey of school-building roofs was presented to the school board last month.

That study, conducted by Terracon Consultants Inc., of Winterville, included an evaluation of roofs on each of the school system’s buildings, their drainage systems, age and recent maintenance history.

“Both should be guiding documents to help us make wise decisions for the dollars we have,” said Patrick Abele, executive director for learning services.

The Hite school inventory is in two parts.

It includes an inventory of county school property that examines the public school system’s existing buildings and evaluates how they are used today, and it includes a summary of school needs and recommendations.

The buildings were evaluated based on their size and adequacy for their student populations as compared to state averages and surveyed for any upgrades needed, energy usage, site conditions and continued life expectancy, among other factors.

The study also identifies about 35 improvements for school leaders and county leaders to consider as part of the school system’s future construction budgets.

Several of the items targeted for improvements — such as bathroom renovations at Bath Elementary School — have been discussed by the school board for several years but have not been made because of budget restrictions.

Other items listed in the study — such as replacing the windows at Eastern Elementary School — are included in the school system’s 2011-2012 fiscal year capital budget.

Some of the improvements are simple fixes that can be completed as part of the school system’s maintenance budget. But others — such as complete bathroom renovations — are more costly and will need to be considered by the school board as part of that panel’s discussion of the 2012-2013 capital budget, Abele said.

Hite is scheduled to meet with the school board later this month to discuss the building inventory.

Members of the county Board of Commissioners had for several years expressed interest in a study of school construction needs, but that study was delayed while the school board searched for a successor to former Superintendent Jeff Moss.

In early 2011, the county commissioners allocated up to $40,000 for the study.