County 'raising the roof' on school repairs

By Kathy Helms-Hughes

STAR STAFF
khelms@starhq.com

   Education has come a long way since the days of the little red, one-room schoolhouse. So have repairs.
   In the old days, if you had a school roof that needed replacing, friends and neighbors brought their tools, food and musical instruments, and everyone joined in for an old-fashioned roof-raising.
   In today's world, the Carter County Schools system has spent nearly half a million dollars since November "trying to get all of our roofs tightened up," according to Kevin Ward, elementary and middle school supervisor. "A lot of our roofing is being done not necessarily because of leaks, it's just because we've got roofs that are 20 to 25 years old."
   Ward said the school system is using some of its capital improvement money to complete the projects because "the way the budget is looking the next few years down the road, we may not have the opportunity. So we're putting a bunch of money in roofs right now."
   Most of the county's schools have some stained ceilings. Ward said one of the first signs of a moisture problem from a leaky roof is when the ceilings develop spots.
   "Everywhere we've had spots that looked like we've had existing leaks we've went back and inspected and changed (the ceiling tiles). Some of the gutterings in these buildings were run through the ceiling, so if we've had a leak in some kind of pipe or something that's gutter-related, we've been fixing all of those," he said.
   Ward said he was aware of a couple of complaints concerning the presence of black mold at two of the county's schools. "Any time we get a complaint that bodes a serious issue, we go out and we inspect," Ward said.
   Ward and Philip Nave, a maintenance department employee, document the location, conduct an open air sample, then send it to a Tri-Cities laboratory to determine whether a problem actually exists.
   "Most of what we've had to test have been our modular units. The ones at Hunter and Hampton ... but nothing tested out to be mold. Some of them sit pretty low on the ground, so what we've done is we've just tried to make sure we divert all of our water away and keep that moisture out from under them," Ward said.
   Ward said that Superintendent Dallas Williams and the county school board have been good about listening to those problems identified by maintenance workers and looking at the wisest way to spend capital improvement money. Right now, according to Ward, "that is roofs."
   At the same time roofs are being reworked, the county also is replacing kitchen hoods at two schools per year, some due to fire marshal concerns.
   "We're doing two a year because it's a major expense item. They run about $34,000-$35,000 each. We did two last year; we've got two this year, and we're going to complete that process at two a year for the next three years to try and finish up," Ward said.
   Happy Valley and Hampton High Schools were completed last year, while Little Milligan Elementary and Unaka High School are scheduled this year, pending board approval. Repairs are also scheduled for Unaka Elementary.
   Superintendent Williams said that most of the schools' roofs were placed in 1982.
   "What we did was try to prioritize, based on what kind of work we'd have to do and what our maintenance crew thought needed to be done first. It was just a capital project that we felt like we needed to do instead of just patching roofs when we have leaks," Williams said.
   Ward said he is pleased with the roofing projects. "It's a big expenditure, but it's a good feeling to go ahead and get it done."
   On the school system's list of summer projects is bathroom stall replacement. "A lot of our schools are 40 years-plus. In many, our bathroom stalls have deteriorated past the point to where they needed replacement a long time ago. We're going to be putting an ad in the paper today to solicit bids for bathroom stalls," he said.
   Also, prisoners at the Carter County Jail will be painting gyms and hallways in county schools this summer.