Mulling Changes

Published 9:00 pm Friday, November 16, 2012

Brookhaven School District board members have heard proposals aimed at addressing infrastructure problems in the district, including a plan to swap the locations of the alternative school and central office.

     However, the district’s first priority must be fixing facilities that don’t meet the standards of the Americans With Disabilities Act, Maintenance Director Joe Morgan told board members Thursday evening.

     Violations of the ADA throughout the district include a lack of handicapped accessible sinks and water fountains and improper door hardware.

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     Morgan’s recommendations dealing with Fannie Mullins Alternative School and the district’s Central Office were prompted by recurring problems with the school’s aging heating and air condition systems.

     The district has spent $50,000 in repairs since 2010 on the current system, including a $20,000 repair in May of 2011.

     However, the air conditioning is currently out again. Nothing has been done yet, since temperatures are cool.

     “If it had happened in July, we would have been up a creek,” Morgan said.

     Morgan believes further repairs to the current system are unwise.

     “It’s not feasible to keep spending that much on repairs on this system,” Morgan said of Mullins. “If we continue to patch, repair, patch, repair, eventually that will no longer work. It won’t take a patch or a repair.”

     He presented the board with a proposal to replace the heating and air conditioning systems at Mullins and keep the alternative program there. However, his preferred option is to replace the system and swap the locations of the alternative program and central offices.

     If the central office was moved to Mullins, Morgan proposed reducing the square footage of the building that is heated and cooled by converting part of the building to non-climate controlled storage space. Installing new heating and air systems at a Mullins building reduced in size would cost about $1.6 million, Morgan estimated.

     However, this plan would create a savings in the first year on the Mullins heat and air costs, Morgan said.

     Leaving the building as is but replacing all the heating and air systems would cost about $2.3 million, according to estimates Morgan provided board members.

     District Superintendent Dr. Lisa Karmacharya said she could support the plan to move all central office staff to Mullins.

     Right now, most administrators are at the central office, but some district-wide administrators, including the food services director, are housed at Mullins.

     Morgan said very minimal construction would be needed to house the alternative program in what’s currently the central office.

     Morgan and Karmacharya both advised board members that a decision is needed quickly. Since there’s no air at Mullins right now, a decision about the air system must be made before temperatures begin to rise again next spring.

     “The sooner you come to a decision the better,” Karmacharya said.

     Along with the costs of addressing heat and air systems at Mullins, Morgan told board members getting the district into compliance with ADA standards will cost approximately $567,000.

     Renovating bathrooms, water fountains and door hardware throughout the entire district would be quite expensive, Morgan said, to the tune of about $5.1 million. Therefore he’s only advising that targets areas be addressed.

     For example, if there are eight bathrooms in a building, only one would be renovated and designated the handicapped accessible bathroom.

     Finance Director Susan Quin spoke to the board on financing options other than increasing taxes the board could utilize. She briefly discussing the possibility of renewing a tax levy used to pay off the district’s last bond issue.

     She said once the bond is paid off, the tax revenue previously used to service bond debt could be used for infrastructure improvement.

     Board members did not discuss financing options at any length.

     Quin described the school’s reserve fund balance as “very healthy” but advised against any further use of those funds.

     Earlier this year, board members committed reserve funds for several projects, including an expensive repair of roofs throughout the district.

     She said future uncertainty would make it imprudent to drive reserve funds too low.

      “As we approach this new year, we face many challenges,” Quin said. “I feel we will face a very tight budget for the next year.”