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Small schools could cost millions to renovate, replace

Average of $11.35 million per school for cheapest choices

Posted: May 31, 2018 4:01 p.m.
Updated: June 1, 2018 1:00 a.m.
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The message from Joe Pike and Eddie Rodelsperger to the Kershaw County Board of School Trustees’ Finance/Facilities Committee on Tuesday was clear: It will take much more than the $1 million each from the 2016 referendum bond to truly bring Baron DeKalb, Bethune and Mt. Pisgah elementary schools into some semblance of the 21st century.

Most of the nearly two-hour noontime meeting -- which also included reports on April financials, the district’s proposed Fiscal Year 2019 budget and a discussion on alternative lunches for students with negative food service balances -- focused on a small schools report from Pike and Rodelsperger, both of Pike McFarland Hall Associates Inc., an architecture/planning firm.

In a memo to trustees included in Tuesday’s packet, outgoing Kershaw County School District (KCSD) Superintendent Dr. Frank Morgan pointed out that as the 2016 referendum developed, the original proposal was to combine Bethune and Mt. Pisgah elementary schools into a new North Central elementary school. However, in order to have legislation passed to permit the referendum to include an additional 1-cent sales tax, S.C. House Speaker Jay Lucas stipulated the small schools had to stay open and that the referendum bond figure be below $130 million.

“The final referendum proposal included a very arbitrary figure of $1 million for each of the small schools to do cosmetic improvements that would not go beyond a minimum threshold that would require more extensive renovation to meet current codes,” Morgan wrote in the memo. “When the referendum passed, each of these school communities was asked for feedback as to improvements the community would want to see. The requests were extensive and far beyond simply cosmetic.”

Those meetings took place in late 2017.

In response, Morgan said, Rodelsperger and KCSD Director of Operations Billy Smith worked with Pike McFarland Hall to quantify the costs to meet the communities’ requests.

Depending on what the board and the district choose to do to upgrade the three North Central area elementary schools beyond simple cosmetics, Pike and McFarland’s report shows costs could soar to an average of $11.35 million per school at the minimum through various combinations of renovations and reconstruction, to as much as an average of $14.23 million per school to completely rebuild them. That could mean total costs of anywhere between, roughly, $33 million and $42 million.

Pike and Rodelsperger also offered two other alternatives:

• replace and consolidate only Bethune and Mt. Pisgah elementary schools for $15.8 million; or

• replace and consolidate all three elementary schools for $19.9 million.

The reason for such high prices compared to what a majority of trustees voted for placing on the 2016 referendum is the need to meet the latest building, fire and electrical codes. In addition, the updated cost estimates also reflect S.C. Department of Transportation (DOT) requirements concerning getting parents’ vehicles off of roadways when dropping off and picking up their children from school.

In essence, Pike and Rodelsperger told the committee, performing any of the upgrades stakeholders requested could trigger the need to bring a portion of, if not an entire school facility into compliance with current codes.

Pike explained that each school was analyzed based on building code classification of work, which comes in three “levels of alteration.” Level 1 work includes removal and replacement of existing materials, equipment or fixtures using new material, equipment or fixtures that serve the same purpose. New finishes, floor coverings and trim are included. At Level 2, the works consists of remodeling or rearranging rooms and spaces, addition or elimination of doors and windows, redesign, extending any building systems or installing new equipment. All new arrangements must comply with 2015 international building and plumbing codes, and the required fire resistance ratings for corridors must be met. Level 3 alterations consist of work involving all the items at Level 2 and exceed 50 percent of the building area. In addition to the 2015 building and plumbing codes and the fire ratings, a structural engineering evaluation and analysis must be performed by a registered design professional establishing the adequacy of the altered structure.

All three levels require U.S. American Disabilities Act (ADA) compliance.

Something stakeholders want to do with the $1 million each the referenda bond funds provide is replace existing windows -- glass block in some cases -- with energy efficient windows. That, Rodelsperger said, would trigger the need to bring things up to code.

“What you’re going to hear today is that to pull out and replace those windows, what kind of a ‘snowball’ that has created with the (S.C. Department of Education’s) Office of School Facilities [OSF] in order to do  that little bit of work right there what, in addition to that, they’re going to make us do,” Rodelsperger said. “And that’s going to be true of all of these schools when you take the stakeholders’ first priority and then you get that snowball rolling … at all three schools if we do anything at all to them.”

Other items stakeholders wanted for BDK included installing gutters, replacing flooring where needed, refurbishing bathrooms, repaving parking, installing security cameras inside and outside the school, getting a new roof and installing a new HVAC in the library. While there are others, all of those desires, Pike said, would trigger the need to meet current codes.

To meet Level 3 construction requirements at BDK, Pike said the district would need to provide fire hydrants and pressure water system; install a fire access lane around the entire school so that fire trucks could be no more than 150 feet from any part of the buildings; extend the parent pick-up/drop-off lane; add grading and sidewalks at the multipurpose room exits; upgrade signage; abate any hazardous materials; reconfigure bathrooms to be ADA compliant, including replacing fixtures and piping; add an exit to the building in the administrative area; and make the cafeteria stage ADA compliant by providing ramps both in front of the house and backstage.

In addition, Pike listed several fire-related upgrades, but said all could be skipped if an automatic sprinkler system was installed throughout the school. However, the school would still need to replace the fire alarm system; verify emergency lights are working; replace domestic and kitchen water heaters; remount switches and fire pulls in the 1956 wing to ADA-required heights; replace existing classroom sinks and millwork; provide hot water to kindergarten sinks; insulate all exposed hot water piping; add exhaust fans to the restrooms; provide ground-fault circuit interrupter receptacles in toilets and water coolers; and re-label all electrical panels.

Other recommendations for BDK included video inspecting waste lines for possible replacement, performing various HVAC and electrical upgrades, repainting the interior, replacing the roof and kitchen equipment/hood, installing new ceiling systems and replacing flooring as needed, and security/surveillance upgrades.

Rodelsperger then went over the possible renovation/replacement options for BDK:

• Demolish and replace the 1956 building, but renovate the 1999 and 2003 buildings -- $9.8 million.

• Renovate the entire school -- $9.6 million

• Replace the entire school -- $15 million

Many of the same Level 3 recommendations were made for Bethune and Mt. Pisgah elementary schools. At Bethune Elementary School (BES), Pike noted that the OSF will not allow buses and parents’ vehicles to share the same lane of traffic as they do now at BES.

“We are recommending here that the bus drop-off be relocated to left of the 1964 version and the parent drop-off remain where it is,” Pike said, adding that DOT requires 1,200 linear feet, thereby requiring additional asphalt for “parent stacking” on site in order to accommodate that requirement.

Among Pike’s recommendations for BES was creating new student toilets in the former boys’ locker room in order to meet ADA requirements and fixture counts.

Rodelsberger’s options for BES were:

• Demolishing the old shop and weight room and renovating the 1956 and 1983 buildings -- $10.1 million

• Demolishing and replacing the 1956 and 1964 buildings, but renovating the 1983 and 1996 buildings -- $10.8 million

• Renovating the entire school -- $16.9 million

• Replacing the entire school -- $13.9 million

When Pike and Rodelsperger finished their report on BES, Trustee Kim DuRant -- who explained she would need to leave the meeting early due to a family obligation -- said that while she appreciated the information, she wanted to know why the study was even conducted when the referendum only allows for $1 million to be used at each school.

“We know we can’t do all this,” DuRant said. “What can I tell my constituents when they say, ‘Why haven’t you started doing anything?”

Rodelsperger answered by way of explaining that the district can’t do anything at the three schools requiring an architect or engineer to deal with without having to send plans to OSF, which mandates the requirements Pike listed.

“Basically, you can paint and put some rugs down,” Morgan added, “which is about all we thought we were going to do with the money.”

DuRant then asked how much money was spent on a study to find out what the district couldn’t do at the schools.

“Out of that million dollars, what did this cost our three little elementary schools?” DuRant asked.

Rodelsperger didn’t have an answer at the time.

Thursday, however, KCSD Director of Communications Mary Anne Byrd said in an email that the district is paying Pike McFarland Hall $79,281.67 to conduct the study, funded from interest earned on already invested bond proceeds.

Chairman James Smith said he looked at Pike and Rodelsperger’s report as a response to the stakeholders’ requests for each school.

“We’re looking at $35-$40 million. I think one of the things the board would, eventually, have to consider is that -- (the current) Camden Elementary, that school is sitting in a prime area, it’s got to have a good dollar value; that’s something down the road the board will look at -- what can you do pertaining to those schools?” Smith said.

DuRant, however, said the North Central communities are watching the new “beautiful schools” being built.

“Is anything going to be done this summer?” DuRant asked of North Central schools. “Painting or anything? Nothing’s being done except a study sucking up a lot of that money.”

Rodelsperger said he believed the study was commissioned because, after the stakeholders presented their requests, it was “a way to show the school board that if you touch these old buildings, and you do anything beyond cosmetics, it’s going to start a snowball effect -- that you can’t afford to touch them.”

For example, he said, the district would not be able to “touch” the 1924 section of Mt. Pisgah Elementary School (MPES), which is the oldest of the three schools, with other portions added in 1956 and 1966. The only thing Rodelsperger said might be done there is a little bit of painting. He also said air conditioning could not be installed in the MPES gym without having to bring the entire school into ADA compliance.

“It was a reality check to make sure that everybody understood that if we go down this road and we do these things, here’s what happens and what we have to do to make these schools code compliant,” Rodelsperger said.

In addition to some of the same items as at BDK and BES for Level 3 alterations, Pike said MPES would need to provide a stair lift to the cafeteria, upgrade railings to comply with current codes, and fire rate the gym ceiling and remove open flame heaters.

Rodelsperger’s only two options for MPES were:

• Renovate the entire school -- $15 million

• Replace the whole school -- $13.8 million

He then presented the two other options of consolidating just BES and MPES, or consolidating all three schools for either $15.8 million or $19.9 million, respectively.

The report prompted Morgan to talk about what happened at a school in Calhoun County recently.

“They built an addition and when the plans were approved for this addition -- I think it was an elementary school -- OSF didn’t tell them they needed to have the large fire lanes. When they went to get it approved for opening, OSF said, ‘You can’t open this addition, because we’ve now decided you need to have wider fire lanes.’ So, there’s an addition sitting in Calhoun County since January that can’t be opened,” Morgan said.

Trustee Ron Blackmon expressed concern at what Pike and McFarland’s report revealed to him.

“What I’ve heard today is we have three dangerous schools because they’re very old and extremely not up to codes. They are dangerous schools for these children -- that’s what I’ve heard everybody say. Is that correct?” Blackmon asked.

Pike answered that they are schools that do not meet current code, which Blackmon said he interpreted as meaning they are dangerous.

Morgan called back to a report conducted for the district by Heery International in 2005 and noted that it recommended “much of the same stuff” as Pike McFarland Hall’s report.

Morgan also suggested the board and district present the small schools study to all the stakeholders who participated in the 2017 meetings.

In addition to the BDK, BES and MPES recommendations, Rodelsperger also brought forward two potential growth projects. The first would renovate the two-story portion of Camden High School at a cost of $7.9 million. The second would refurbish the current Wateree Elementary School (WES) building so that when students occupy the new WES being built next door, it could be converted to child development or other use. The cost to do so would be $3.4 million.

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