County school officials give update on building improvements

By Megan R. Harrell

Star Staff

   Over the past couple years the Carter County School System has been looking at ways to complete necessary repairs to its buildings. Using an already strapped budget, officials have been working to fund and finish long overdue maintenance projects at both elementary and high schools throughout the county.
   School officials recently offered an update on the improvements that are in progress, as well as those that have been completed. Roofing projects, kitchen-stove hood replacements, window upgrades, and a Johnson Controls project are all under way at different locations throughout the school system, which consists of 16 buildings countywide.
   Kevin Ward, director of maintenance and safety for Carter County schools, said he is using a systematic approach to completing the roofing repairs. Repairs are being conducted based on a roof management program developed over a period of years by local architects Beeson Lusk & Street.
   "We looked at what our roofing needs are, and had an inventory developed by looking at the ones that had age on them that had not been worked on since 1982," Ward said. "We are not just tearing roofs off to be tearing them off. These roofs have been identified. We have completed our inventory, and where we have problems we put them at a higher priority."
   He added that approximately $500,000 has been set aside in the 2002-2003 budget for roof repairs, and that several of the scheduled roofing projects are already under way. Happy Valley Elementary was the first on the list to receive repairs to its roof. The cost of the project was approximately $90,000 and included repairs to the front section of the school's roof, and the correction of drainage problems which were affecting the building's foundation.
   Six other roofing projects are currently in progress or being planned for the 2002-2003 year. Ward will begin accepting bids Tuesday for projects at Valley Forge Elementary, Cloudland High School and Hampton High School Vocational.
   Three county schools are scheduled to receive repairs to their roofs each year, for the next three years. The last two schools to receive roof repairs are Keenburg and Hunter Elementary, which are on the schedule for 2006-2007.
   The five-year cost estimate for completing all 19 of the scheduled roofing projects is approximately $1.9 million, a cost which school officials believe is modest considering the size of the project.
   "We have a lot of roofs on these buildings. We have 16 different locations and each location has anywhere from four or five different sections of roof," Ward said. "Some of the schools have been added on to over the years and we have five to six different roof lines on the same building."
   Other maintenance projects costing the county school system money are those that have been mandated by state fire inspectors. About 12 hoods over the schools' kitchen stoves must be replaced at a cost of about $40,000 a piece.
   The state fire marshal is allowing the school system to replace two hood units each year instead of mandating the upgrade take place during a single budget year. Before Christmas, new hoods, which tie into the buildings' sprinkler systems, were installed at Happy Valley and Hampton High schools.
   "We are not the only system that are under these guidelines. Surrounding systems are also looking at ways to make the necessary improvements to satisfy the state fire marshal's guidelines," Ward said.
   Superintendent of County Schools Dallas Williams stated that he and several other area superintendents requested financial support from state officials during a legislative breakfast last year. He said he has not received any information back on his request for the state's help to offset some of the costs related to the new hood units.
   Ward estimated that over the last three or four years the county school system has spent $250,000 on incidental projects related to fire and safety codes. New door closures, exterior doors and sheet rock up to fire code specifications have been installed at schools. The last phase of these projects is expected to be completed this summer.
   Maintenance workers have also been busy installing new windows at county schools. The system is using a $450,000 federal grant to fund the replacement of outdated windows, as well as new carpet and tiling in modular classrooms. So far, the windows in Valley Forge Elementary's gym, old vocational buildings at Hampton and Happy Valley High Schools, and approximately 95 percent of the windows in the main building at Unaka High School have been replaced.
   The grant will also go toward renovating 13 portable units at six different buildings in the county school system. Ward stated that all of the projects should be completed within the next month, and the renovation committee will prepare a draft for cost reimbursement when the final bill arrives.
   The largest maintenance work currently being carried out at county schools is the Johnson Controls project. This fall, after two years of research, the school system entered into a $3.2 million performance contract with the energy saving company. The contract gives the system a 100 percent guarantee that it will save money by installing more efficient thermostat control units, and lighting fixtures.
   "It is a win-win situation because we are gaining new lighting and heating controls at no cost to us or the county," Superintendent Williams said.
   Maintenance workers expect to replace old magnetic light bulbs with electronic bulbs at the county school buildings by early May. The lighting upgrades have already been completed at both schools in Hampton, Little Milligan and Valley Forge Elementary.
   The energy savings that the school system sees over the life of the 15-year contract will pay for the initial investment to get the project started. After the first year of operating with the new heating control and lighting units, Johnson Controls guarantees the system a savings of over $33,000. The amount of guaranteed savings increases each year until it reaches approximately $1.4 million at the end of the 15-year period.
   Williams stated that savings from the Johnson Controls project will go toward renovations and repairs where necessary. "That is our main goal. To do these projects and save money at the same time," Williams said. "We realize we are in a budget crunch here, and are trying to get these improvements done, yet save the taxpayers' money."