A request by Clinton City Schools for roof replacements at Butler Avenue and L.C. Kerr, after being tabled last month by the Sampson Board of Commissioners, was approved Monday in a split vote.
Last month, the board voted to fund roof replacement requests by Sampson County Schools totaling $452,250, including complete replacement of roofs over gymnasiums at Roseboro Middle, at $141,750; Union Intermediate, at $149,500; and Hobbton High, at $161,000.
It tabled a Clinton City Schools request for roof replacements at L.C. Kerr and Butler Avenue schools, totaling $439,920 for new shingle roofs or $544,800 for metal roofs — metal would last about a decade longer — until such time as it could be determined the need was more pressing.
At school officials’ request, the board reconsidered the request at Monday’s regular meeting and ultimately approved the cheaper alternative after a presentation and arguments on both sides of the issue, culminating in what appeared to be a deadlocked vote. The vote twice came down to 2-2, with Commissioner Jarvis McLamb choosing not to vote either time. Following the second 2-2 vote, McLamb was told his vote would be an affirmed vote, which is standard procedure in a situation where a board member is not excused for a legitimate conflict.
At Monday’s meeting, City Board of Education member Randy Barefoot spoke to the requested roof replacements, with Clyde Locklear, assistant superintendent for finance/facilities for Clinton City Schools, the entire city school board, as well as assistant principals from Butler Avenue and L.C. Kerr, Jennifer Pope and Tony Faison, respectively, all in attendance. City Schools Superintendent Stuart Blount was out of town on professional development and could not be present.
Barefoot recapped the request, saying it was about being proactive rather than reactive.
The city schools recently prioritized roofing needs through 2020, and roofs at L.C. Kerr and Butler Avenue topped the list. Both schools were built in 1992. Barefoot cited a 2011 study by JKF Architecture recommending that the Butler Avenue and L.C. Kerr be replaced in 2014 and 2015, respectively, due to their age and overall condition. In June 2013, REI Engineers Group reevaluated the roofs as part of a feasibility study and agreed with JKF’s recommendation.
Commissioner Albert Kirby inquired as to whether repairing the roof could be a viable alternative. Barefoot said repairing at this age was “not the best option,” according to REI’s report.
“There have been some repairs, but due to the age of the shingles and its deteriorating, it’s going to be hard to go in there and make repairs,” said Locklear. “That’s why they advised that we’re going to throw in good money after bad if you try to do a wholesale repair on the roof. You can see patched areas where shingles are being lost and the deterioration has just continued.”
Kirby asked specifically about leaks. Locklear said leaking in classrooms is not “pronounced,” but the damage to the roof is evident enough for concern about interior damage in the near future.
Last month, Kirby said the county schools’ need passed the “bucket test” — a term that denotes whether a bucket was literally catching dripping water from leaky roofs — while the city schools’ need did not. He echoed that stance Monday, detailing the financial climate and budgetary challenges facing the county.
He noted continuing budget negotiations by the board but lack of cuts from an already $800,000 shortfall, he said, pointing out that it has often been called the “800-pound gorilla.”
“It seems we’ve been getting more spending needs as opposed to cuts, and the 800-pound gorilla is in the corner getting fatter,” said Kirby. “I mention that to get to the point about the roofs. You’re trying to be proactive … but given the financial circumstances of the county now, why would we spend money replacing a roof that is not leaking? It does not make sense to me.”
If the roofs can be patched in any way in order to squeeze several more years out of them, “that would be the most practical course to take,” Kirby remarked. “I do believe that everybody thinks there is a need, and not a want, to replace as opposed to repair. The meaning of need changes in the midst of abject economic distress, such as we’re experiencing now. I feel there should be a time to stretch and really get more miles out of them.”
With the county schools approved for $452,250 last month, there was a little under $600,000 that could be used to pay for roofs and other school facility needs from capital reserve funds from sales tax monies. The city schools also had unallocated roof funds totaling $70,000 from 2010-11.
In December 2011, the board voted to allocate a total of about $650,000 in school capital reserve funds to the county schools for roof repairs at the old Midway High School, as well as to city schools for brick and mortar emergency situations. At that time, no specific project was designated for the city schools funds. Clinton City Schools in October 2012 requested $80,000 of the $150,000 be authorized for the replacement of the College Street School facility roof, approved by the board, leaving another $70,000 unspent.
Barefoot said the cost for the College Street roof was actually $90,000, but the $10,000 difference was paid by the school system. Additionally, the gym roof at Sunset Avenue School was replaced at a cost of $130,000 three years ago without requesting funds from the county.
“In that case, we used the ‘bucket test’ method, and it cost us approximately 30 to 40 percent more money,” Barefoot said. “In our current request of $544,000 that 30 to 40 percent would be close to (an additional) $200,000. Our concerns with the bucket test method are structural damage … (and damage) to the ceilings, walls and potential mildew and mold. These are added costs that could be eliminated by being proactive.”
Board chairman Billy Lockamy noted that the roughly $100,000 difference between the shingles and metal was a lot, especially in light of a recovering — but still down — economy. Barefoot conceded he knew the county had its budgetary concerns, the same kind of issues the city’s Board of Education has been forced to confront.
“Our request would take major roofing needs off the horizon for Clinton City Schools until 2018. We do not have the funds for large needs like we had for the Sunset Avenue gym roof,” said Barefoot. “We understand that Clinton City Schools cannot survive without your assistance and we appreciate the dedication to education you have shown over these economic times. These are roofing needs that none of us will ever have to deal with again.”
Strickland made a motion to approve the Clinton City Schools, but using shingles at a cost of $439,920, in order not to wipe the reserves dry. The motion was seconded by Lockamy.
Strickland said he understood Kirby’s concerns, but stressed the roof problem would not be getting any cheaper to fix. Capital reserve funds also must be used toward roof replacement and similar school infrastructure needs and could not be utilized toward the county’s general fund.
“It doesn’t matter,” said Kirby. “Tell that to the average person who pays taxes. All they’re going to see is we’re replacing a roof and no one says it’s leaking. I have a problem with that, given the circumstances we’re in now. It just doesn’t look good.”
After a bit more discussion, Lockamy asked for a vote. Kirby and Commissioner Harry Parker opposed the request. McLamb did not raise his hand. Strickland clarified his motion and a second vote was taken, with the same outcome. Assistant county manager explained that a unexcused, non-vote was one in the affirmative, meaning the Clinton City Schools’ request was approved in a 3-2 vote.
Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121 or via email at email@example.com.