ROGERSVILLE — The Hawkins Co. Board of Education got both good and bad financial news during a Thursday evening 2018-19 budget workshop.
The bad news, which was delivered during an engineering report about Keplar Elementary School, left the BOE with a difficult choice among a handful of alternatives for the school’s future: make extensive renovations that could cost more than $2 million, build a new school at a cost of more than $3 million, or transfer the students to other schools and close Keplar.
If repairs were made, the students would have to be temporarily transferred to other schools while renovations were progress for 24 months or more.
Good news on roofing projects
The good financial news was that bids for repairing portions of the roofs of Bulls Gap School and Church Hill Middle School came in lower than officials had anticipated.
Shannon Glass, the system’s maintenance supervisor, told the five BOE members who were present for the workshop (Chris Christian and Tecky Hicks did not attend) that the lowest bids for the two projects had been submitted by Barnard Roofing of Gray and Morristown Roofing.
Glass told the BOE that Barnard Roofing submitted a low bid for the Church Hill Middle School roof project of $136,705, while Morristown Roofing submitted the low bid of $161,008.64 for the larger Bulls Gap School roof project. Both firms have previously done roof-repair work for the county school system, Glass said.
School officials had feared the bids might total a combined $400,000, but the actual lowest bids for both projects totaled $297,713.64
He recommended that the board consider awarding the Church Hill Middle School roof project to Barnard Roofing and the Bulls Gap School roof project to Morristown Roofing. Because the Thursday evening event was a workshop and not a regular meeting, a vote could not be taken and the BOE will have to take up the bids at its next meeting.
By splitting the projects between the two firms, Glass said, both projects could be undertaken at the same time this summer while students are not at school.
Glass noted that a total of four roofing companies submitted bids.
The Keplar School situation
Director of Schools Steve Starnes said Keplar Elementary School, which is located in southeastern Hawkins County at the intersection of Burem Road and Webster Valley Road, currently serves a little over 100 students.
The school building consists of two sections – the original 10,000-square-foot school building, which was erected in 1950, and a 9,000-square-foot addition that was built in 1960.
It is the 1950 portion of the building that poses major problems, according to Steve Wilson, the owner of Spoden and Wilson Consulting Engineers in Kingsport, who inspected the school and prepared an engineering report at the request of the BOE.
Wilson, however, told the BOE that he didn’t find anything at Keplar Elementary during a February inspection that would require closing the building in the immediate future, but he did cite a series of problems with the building.
He noted that the older part of the school is built of wood framing with wooden floor joists and multi-layer brick load-bearing walls.
Wilson said his objective in conducting an engineering study was the safety of the inhabitants of the building and the feasibility of the building for the BOE.
Wilson said there is a “depression” in the roof of the older part of the school near the southeast corner as well as problems with the wooden structure that supports the roof of the 1950 portion of the building.
“Toward the southeast corner of the front of the original (1950) building there is a significant sag in the roof framing,” Wilson said. “There is some significant deformation in some of the structural framing members and there is a depression in the roof (near the southeast corner.)”
He noted that the roof does have some slope, “but not a great deal.” Originally, he said, he thought the roof of the 1950 portion of the building was flat.
“We did look at the foundation and there are some deformations and sags in the floor framing system,” he said.
Wilson once told the Sullivan Co. BOE to shut down Blountville Middle School because of problems found during a structural inspection.
“I tell you all that to tell you there is nothing at Keplar Elementary that would require (you) to shut the building down,” Wilson told the BOE. “I didn’t find anything that was remotely unsafe.”
Wilson said his recommendations for actions at Keplar were based on extending the life of the building for 10 to 15 years. He noted that he would rate the existing building “poor to fair.”
“It is well-maintained and there is a lot of pride in that school,” Wilson said. “They take care of it. Your system takes care of it. But from a structural perspective it would be best to call it fair. At worst, call it poor.”
Wilson then told the BOE that he recommends removing all the damaged and deflected roof framing members for the 1950 portion of the building. He said that if the BOE wants to continue having students going to class in the building, it would be best to replace the roof structure in phases,
The estimated cost of doing so would be around $455,000, Wilson said. He noted that replacement would involve installation of new roof decking, joists, framing members, insulation and a new roof membrane.
In addition, he said, other things such as new ceiling, new interior lighting and other interior items were not included in his $455,000 estimate. Those items, he said, could “serious impact” the overall cost of replacing the roof system at the school.
Asked by a BOE member how much the interior items might add to the cost of the roof replacement, Wilson said he estimated at least 30 percent.
Maintenance Director Shannon Glass, when asked for his opinion, said it could add as much as 50 percent to the cost of the project.
Moving on in his report, Wilson recommended replacing wooden floor joists in the 1950 portion of the school building as well. Although the older section of the building has lasted longer than he has been alive, Wilson said, there are “a lot of bumps and bruises” in the flooring system including uneven floors in some areas.
Wilson estimated the cost of replacing the floor system in the 1950 portion at $280,000.
Asked by Chairman Bob Larkins if the two projects could be done simultaneously or one before the other, Wilson said he recommends repairing the roof first.
“First of all, it’s more difficult and you would want to scaffold or stage off the floor,” he said. “I would keep myself in the dry for lack of better words.”
Asked by Larkins if the work could be accomplished in two months, Wilson said, “I don’t think so.” He estimated it would take four to six months per side of the building.
Larkins then asked if electrical and plumbing elements of the building should be replaced while the roof and floor work is in progress. Maintenance Director Glass said that would make sense.
Asked by Larkins why he focused on a 10-15-year life extension for the building, Wilson said the existing building is older and that structural engineers are conservative by nature.
“I have every confidence that every structural repair we design will last longer than we have to worry about it,” Wilson said. He noted that if the recommended repairs are done correctly, the life of the building could extend past 15 years.
“Our thinking is that if we’re going to spend $2.5 million for 15 years (a 15-year building life), that might not be a wise move,” Larkins said.
Wilson replied that the structural repairs he recommends had an estimated cost of $1.3 million and noted that if other things were done correctly, the 15-year life expectancy of the building would grow.
Wilson also recommended replacing the roof over the gymnasium and cafeteria portions of the Keplar building. He estimated the cost of replacing the roof sections in those areas at “around $100,000.”
The engineer also told the BOE that he recommends replacing the membrane on the roof of the 1960 addition to the school. That, he estimated, would cost another $180,000.
In response to a question from Larkins, Wilson said $100,000 as an estimate of the cost of installing a “secure entrance” at the school didn’t seen unreasonable. Earlier, someone cited a possible $150,000 cost for such an entrance.
Discussion then turned to what to do with the students while the extensive renovation work was in progress at the school. Director of schools Steve Starnes said a decision would have to be made whether to “shuttle” the students to other schools while the work was in progress or whether to rent and install “mobile classrooms” on the school grounds.
Starnes estimated the cost of renting four “double” mobile classroom units at $150,000 to $200,000 per year.
During the budget workshop, Starnes also told the BOE members that should a major renovation project be undertaken at Keplar Elementary, the students would have to be “shuttled” to others schools until the work was finished.
Build new school?
Discussion shifted to the estimated cost of building a new school building and Wilson said he estimated the cost of construction (not including land costs) at $175 to $190 per square foot. If land is to be acquired for a new building the estimate would increase to $190 to $200 per square foot.
BOE members calculated the cost of building a 19,000-square-foot school at abound $3.8 million.
In response to a question from BOE member Jackie Charles, Wilson said he estimated the life of a new building at 50 years. “But that doesn’t mean you planned the size of the rooms right for 50 years,” Wilson said.
Asked by Larkins if he understood correctly that the existing Keplar building is safe, Wilson replied “yes.” But he said he recommends that the southeast corner roof depression be addressed before long. “I don’t seen anything imminent, but it is a fairly significant depression,” Wilson said.
During further discussion, Wilson said although they were based on his firm’s years of experience with school projects, his cost estimates should be considered “best guesses” and should not be relied upon to make final monetary decisions.
He noted that a job that he estimated earlier this year would cost $800,000 to $1 million actually was bid at only $500,00, while another that he had estimated at $250,00 actually came in at $300,000.
Everything from the bidding climate to the cost of fuel can influence how much bids come in high or low, he said.
Wilson said he believes the BOE should expect it to take at least 24 months to complete all the renovation work.
When discussion turned to what to do about the students who now attend Keplar during the proposed renovation work, Starnes said one solution would be to bus them to Joseph Rogers Primary School and Hawkins Elementary School in Rogersville. He said the K-2 students could go to JRP and the grades 3 through 5 students to Hawkins Elementary.
Starnes said there is room to accommodate Keplar students at JRP and HES. He noted there were seven classes per grade at Joseph Rogers Primary School when the school opened. Now, he said, there are only five classes per grade. He noted that there also is room for additional students at Hawkins Elementary.
In response to a question from Larkins about how moving the students to other schools would affect the teaching staff at Keplar, Starnes said he thought most teachers would travel to the other schools with their students but that he did not know exactly at this point.