First, I want to thank our school board for its courage and diligence in addressing our run-down high school. Also, the board of supervisors should be commended for its decision to get a second opinion as the members represent all our taxpayers. Many of us get second opinions on medical situations as well.
Del. James Edmunds and our local delegation of business leaders, school administrators, teachers and students deserve tremendous credit for convincing our General Assembly to allow Halifax County to add a 1-cent sales tax to help address our school facilities needs.
I have personally seen in Newton County, Georgia, how this additional local sales tax funded not only school capital needs, but also a jail, Dixie Youth ball facilities, a library and parks. It is a great tool to augment and take some pressure off real estate taxes that are indeed sometimes a burden, especially to people who are on a fixed income.
We should understand that with this tool even people from outside Halifax County who shop at Walmart, Lowes and other stores will help pay for capital improvements to our schools.
In November, I would encourage everyone to vote for the local 1-cent sales tax addition to support our schools, our teachers, our children and grandchildren.
For full disclosure, I am not an engineer or an architect; however, I do have considerable business, design, drafting and building experience. Since Margaret and I live in a house that is nearly 230 years old, I understand the need for maintenance and upgrades.
In 2007 Halifax County spent $26 million to renovate our middle school that was built in 1952. This renovation also included a 16,000 square foot addition, and this project totally transformed our middle school.
By comparison, our high school was completed in 1979, and it was “state of the art” at that time. Remember, it was originally designed for 2,000 students.
The Mosley Architects plans estimate the cost to renovate our 313,000 square foot building at $89 million or $285 per square foot. Building a new school is estimated to cost $99 million for 263,000 square feet or $376 per square foot.
And let us not forget all the much needed upgrades at Sinai, Scottsburg, Meadville, Sydnor Jennings and Clays Mill elementary schools, which Moseley estimates from $29 to $52 million.
With South Boston and Cluster Springs enjoying relatively new schools, why is it fair for most of our elementary children to be disadvantaged in run-down schools?
Do we as a struggling community want to “shoot the moon” for a new $99 million high school? With inflation and cost overages, our cost is likely to balloon to $110-120 million and with interest substantially more.
And this doesn’t include $9 million for a new stadium and fieldhouse addition.
Instead, I am advocating that we plan long-range and comprehensively to address all of our school facility issues (with what may be a one-shot opportunity to glean $3.5 million per year in extra sales tax), rather than attempt to piecemeal it in the future or not at all.
In 1991, our Comets won the state football championship. We were embarrassed as a community by an article in the Pulaski newspaper titled “Bring Your Bedpans,” referring to our dilapidated facilities. That fueled our Comets to thrash the Cougars and go 15 – 0. Also, it inspired the Comet Booster Club to develop plans for a new fieldhouse and support buildings at the middle school ballfield, the high school softball field and the high school baseball field.
It is hard to imagine, but at that time there were no facilities that provided restrooms, concession stands, press boxes or storage. In 1994, all of these projects, which were a hard sell to our boards at that time, totaled about $900,000, and J.E. Burton Construction did a great job building them.
Also, Clover Power, Mason Day and the Booster Club built the high school baseball dugouts at no charge.
The fieldhouse, which is 10,000 square feet cost about $800,000 or $80 per square foot. The preliminary plans for these buildings were developed by extensive discussions with then athletic director Don Thompson, football coach Larry Smith and other coaches to reflect their specific needs.
I tell this story to contrast the proposal from Mosley Architects to spend $1.4 million to renovate our field house that cost only $800,000 and then $400,000 more for an addition.
Margaret and I are blessed with three wonderful grandchildren, and two of them attend Cluster Springs Elementary. I have a vested interest in them and all of our children getting a quality education in facilities that are safe, secure, attractive and functional.
Last summer I attended a tour of the high school with many concerned citizens, Dr. Lineburg, Michael Lewis and Jay Jennings. My first question was are there any serious structural issues? The answer was “no.” Later a high school student stated problems with mold and allergens. These are potentially serious issues and need to be addressed.
My third question was, when was the roof replaced? The answer was “2014.”
I believe our school officials and administrators are doing the best they can with their present budgets, but on the tour, we saw and heard of several solvable problems that renovation could address. They included:
• Cosmetic needs i.e. painting, cleaning, pressure washing and others
• Wear and tear: i.e. replace dented and rusted lockers, worn out carpet at the entrance and in the auditorium, broken and torn seats in the auditorium, broken ceiling tiles, aging restrooms as well as cracked and worn floor tile all over
• Security issues: i.e. address the concern of too many entrances, install more security cameras and address communication needs
• Infrastructure needs: i.e. improve the lighting, add A/C for gym, address mold and mildew issues, modernize offices and classrooms, incorporate new technology, replace/upgrade HVAC, improve insulation, address crowded hallways and stairwells, meet handicapped requirements, add more restrooms and windows, modernize the kitchen, replace brick veneer and upgrade the electrical and plumbing throughout.
Solving these problems and issues is certainly not “putting lipstick on a pig,” and in my opinion, it is not an $89 million project either.
With the price of a new CTE wing, (Mosley’s estimate at over $30 million), there seems to be some psychology involved with the renovation being within $10 million of a brand new school.
After all, for only $10 million difference, why not just build a new high school?
But our plan isn’t comprehensive. What about our five run-down elementary schools and the stadium?
Why are we not immediately addressing basic facility issues? Shouldn’t we immediately bleach and pressure wash the high school exterior (at least the front), repoint any loose bricks and attack any mold and allergen problems?
The school board could visit other new “state of the art” schools and drill down on specific plans to renovate our high school and to renovate and modernize our five needy elementary schools to make them more functional, attractive and efficient.
Meanwhile, the board of supervisors can get a much-needed second opinion of renovation versus new build.
By the way, what ever happened to the 2017 B & B Consultants study/estimates of approximately $78 million for a new high school, $20 million for a renovation and $6 million for a new stadium?
B & B Consultants president Jimmy Epps was quoted as saying, “We believe the bones are solid and a renovation is very feasible. I believe if it were to be renovated, you could get another 40 years of service out of it.” For details see The Gazette-Virginian from April 11, 2017.
If the decision to do common sense renovations is made, the construction could be performed by design-build, using our quality local contractors and vendors when practical, which would stimulate our local economy as well.
Christmas and spring breaks could be used for cleaning, painting and minor renovation projects. The three-month summer breaks could be used for major repairs and installations.
Since at any given time 25 percent of the classrooms are not being used, some work could be performed there during school hours. Think of all the disruption, time, demolition (Mosley’s plan $2,941,000), construction and rentals cost this would save.
In my opinion, this work could be done for as little as $111 per square foot, which would figure approximately $35 million.
Then, if we could prudently invest up to $20 million collectively on our five left-behind elementary schools and add up to $5 million for the stadium, we could have a solid $60 million package.
So again, in my opinion, this is a comprehensive plan that would address all of our school facility needs, would easily pass on the local sales tax referendum, would not jeopardize teacher positions and competitive salaries, would not over-burden our vulnerable taxpayers, would not handcuff our county’s ability to do future projects and would not place our county in financial peril.
Assuming the collection of $3.5 million per year in extra sales tax for 20 years, our windfall would total $70 million for our designated projects.
We all want the best for our children and grandchildren, and we cannot “kick the can down the road” any further.
I would encourage others to speak up on these critical decisions, talk to your representatives and vote for the extra local sales tax.
The school board should be commended for tackling these tough issues; the board of supervisors should be applauded for their common-sense oversight and let’s see what we all learn.
In 1994, the Booster Club’s theme was “Bring Back the Pride,” and in 2019 it should be the same.
Thank you in advance for considering this comprehensive approach. In closing, congratulations to the players and coaches of the Comet basketball program for their great season.