School board

A crowd gathers Monday evening in the public meeting room of the Mary Bethune Office Complex for the Halifax County School Board meeting.

Building a new high school was the main topic of conversation at Monday evening’s Halifax County School Board meeting. The board voted at a recent meeting in favor of building a new high school versus renovating the current school building, but the details are still being ironed out.

Steve Brumfield, Halifax County Public Schools director of maintenance, shared the projected annual operational savings of maintaining a new high school building versus the current high school at Monday’s meeting. Those projected annual savings are $109,904.76.

The projection is based on the size of the proposed new school building — 255,000 square feet — versus the current school building, which is 320,000 square feet, as well as the energy efficiency of the HVAC equipment installed and efficiency in water usage at the new school versus the old school.

HCPS superintendent Dr. Mark Lineburg noted the annual savings projection is a conservative estimate.

“The $109,000 is the most conservative estimate that you could ever come up with. I would have to think that probably double that is more likely, maybe even more than that. You’re updating all the HVAC systems and plumbing systems and so forth, so the savings is a minimum number,” Lineburg said. “Your first year of savings is guaranteed, so you ought to have the $200,000, and $500,000 pretty quickly.”

Brumfield also made the recommendation to place the operational savings incurred at the new high school into a capital improvement account to be used exclusively for capital needs at the high school.

“By placing these savings into an account, it will allow utilization of funds for future projects,” Brumfield explained. “As we build a new high school, we won’t have to worry about the maintenance cost of the school because the maintenance cost is going to be very low. But we could use that money on things such as upgrading the paving, emergency maintenance requests or anything that may have to do with the school where we may have to pull from that account.”

School board chair Kathy Fraley asked Brumfield if he foresaw having a regular maintenance schedule for the high school to avoid encountering the “same difficulties 25 years from now that we have presently.”

Brumfield replied that maintenance schedule is already in place. He further explained that he has a building management system that sends notifications to his foremen notifying them of maintenance that needs to take place at all the school buildings such as changing air filters and checking fire extinguishers.

Lineburg elaborated that a maintenance schedule would be in place to address those capital needs at the high school such as updating the athletic track and replacing the roof of the building.

ED-8 trustee Walter Potts also voiced his opinion that making all the schools in the school district as energy efficient as possible should be a high priority.

“If we’ve got inefficient schools, we need to make them more efficient,” he said.

On the topic of new high school construction, ED-4 trustee Jay Camp also presented an alternative construction method option for building the new high school — construction manager at risk — which he favors over the Public-Private Education Facilities and Infrastructure Act (PPEA) option.

“The CMAR is a delivery method which entails a commitment by the construction manager to deliver the project within a guaranteed maximum price, which is based on the construction documents and specifications at the time plus any reasonable inferred items or tasks,” Camp explained. “The CMAR provides professional services and acts as a consultant to the owner in the design, development and construction phases. Oftentimes, the CMAR also provides some of the actual construction of the project depending on the availability of bidders and the expertise the company has.”

Camp added the CMAR gives the owner the guaranteed maximum price prior to bid and the “thorough pre-qualification process” for contractors typically minimizes the number of low bidders and leads to “lower long-term cost, higher quality and fewer claims because only pre-qualified contractors are performing the work.”

ED-6 trustee Lacey Shotwell, who was appointed to the school board in a unanimous vote at Monday’s meeting after being elected to fill the board seat in the November general election, also expressed her favor of the CMAR method over the PPEA method.

“It lets you make one decision and then keeping moving through the process instead of signing on the dotted line and then finding out afterwards what you’re getting, like what happens with the PPEA,” Shotwell said.

ED-5 trustee Freddie Edmunds commented he would like to have more information on the CMAR option before forming an opinion and making a decision on it.

“I definitely would like to have some more information and do some more research on the CMAR, because for the past almost two years plus, all we’ve been talking about is a PPEA, and I’m not really going to make a decision on something that I just heard of tonight,” Edmunds said.

Potts expressed his concern that the CMAR method would take longer than the PPEA construction method.

“So, what you’re saying is all this work we’ve done over the past two years with the PPEA is for nothing?” Potts asked. “Correct me if I’m wrong, but it sounds like we’re getting ready to start all over.”

Fraley replied she does not interpret it that way; she views the CMAR method simply as another construction option, and one that potentially could be less costly.

Prior to Camp’s presentation of the CMAR and the board discussion, a citizen, Cheryl Watts of Halifax, shared her construction method preference for the new high school.

“On the question of building a new high school, I think any option other going with the PPEA proposal would be just short of insane,” Watts stated, during the citizen comment portion of the meeting. “What I know is that with the Branch Builds PPEA option, we not only could have a signed agreement with a guaranteed maximum price, probably by the time Santa Claus comes this year, but we also have a good proven history with Branch Builds. Their last project here was a very successful renovation of our middle school.”

Other business

In other business at Monday’s meeting, the school district’s head nurse coordinator, Tina Slabach, gave a health update, and the board approved changes to the calendar for the current school year.

Slabach gave a positive report on the health of students and staff in the school district, with a marked decline in the number of students and staff in quarantine due to COVID-19 since last month. Currently, Slabach said 42 students were out of school due to quarantine versus 249 students out of school the week of Oct. 14. In addition, Slabach said two staff members currently are out of work due to quarantine, versus nine staff members in quarantine the week of Oct. 14.

As of Monday, the total number of COVID-19 cases among students and staff since the start of the school year was 196, Slabach told the board. That number was 151 on Oct. 14, indicating 45 new cases among students and staff over the past month.

Potts asked what percentage of staff members had been vaccinated for COVID-19. Slabach responded that percentage is in the 80s, versus 48% of the general Halifax County population that has been vaccinated.

In other reports, director of student services Jeff Davis informed the board of the formation of a student code of conduct committee, for the purpose of reviewing the code of conduct to provide “more proactive measures to address student behavior.” The committee will be comprised of board members, central office staff, administrators and teachers.

Davis asked for board volunteers to serve on the student code of conduct committee. Fraley and Shotwell both volunteered to serve.

In a final matter of business, the board unanimously voted on changes to the school calendar, making the entire week of Thanksgiving a holiday for the students and staff. Prior to the change, students would have attended school Monday, Tuesday and half the day on Wednesday the week of Thanksgiving. In addition, Wednesday (Nov. 10) will be a holiday for students instead of early release, and Dec. 9 will be a student holiday/teacher workday.

ED-3 trustee Sandra Garner-Coleman made the motion to amend the school calendar, and Camp seconded the motion

Lisa Long, director of elementary instruction/professional development, said the week off would be a “breath of fresh air” to the students as well as the staff, all of whom have assumed extra duties this school year on top of their regular job because of COVID-19.