Board taking first steps on infrastructure

Published 8:00 pm Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Brookhaven school board members have taken halting, tentative steps toward acting on a recommendation by district administrators to deal with crumbling and aging infrastructure in the district.

The school district’s board trustees voted Tuesday night to authorize Maintenance Director Joe Morgan to solicit from an architect used by the district an estimate of the cost to draw up the plans for a facility overhaul proposed and recommended by Superintendent Lisa Karmacharya and backed by Morgan.

Board members are scheduled to meet again Monday for a student hearing and Morgan will present the cost estimate of the drawings at that time.

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The superintendent pushed the board for some kind of action Tuesday night following a presentation she made, but board members preferred a more scenic route.

“I feel we’re signing on the dotted line, and we don’t know what’s in the contract,” said current board president Karen Braden.

Karmacharya and Morgan provided board members with a district-wide facility plan last November, outlining what they saw as the priorities for infrastructure and facility renovations.

Tuesday, however, Karmacharya presented an amended recommendation.

Administrators continue to highlight the need to address Americans with Disabilities Act violations as the district’s major priority.

Those violations include a lack of handicapped-accessible water fountains and bathrooms at Brookhaven schools and improper door hardware.

Further, the initial recommendation outlined plans to reduce the climate-controlled space of the Fannie Mullins alternative school. All administrative offices would then move to the Mullins building, and the alternative school would be housed at the current Central Office.

Karmacharya now recommends moving the alternative school into a trailer owned by the district, slashing the amount of heated and cooled square feet at Mullins to reduce costs and retaining the administrative offices that are there.

This plan would also would entail staff reductions in order to eek out more savings. Karmacharya recommended a reduction by one each of the Mullins teaching, in-school suspension and custodial staff. She also recommended further reducing the Mullins staff by attrition and using Brookhaven High School staff to help support the alternative program.

“You can nickel and dime to death, but this is the only option to substantially recoup some of the money we are losing,” Karmacharya said, speaking of an anticipated drop in federal funding next year and a trend of lower-than-expected tax collections. “We’ve got to make some tough decisions moving forward.”

Board member Willie Harrison expressed some reticence about the plan.

“I’m looking at the people you’re cutting, and it’s not a whole lot of money,” he said, speaking of an estimated first year savings of approximately $98,700.

The plans that need to be drawn would outline the ADA fixes at all district schools and a plan for the installation of a new air conditioning system at Mullins and a reduction in the climate-controlled space.

The air system at Mullins is currently broken and has been deemed not worth repair.

If board members approve the cost of the drawings Monday, they would still later have to approve a proposal to seek bids for the project.

However, with no working air conditioning system at Mullins and warmer temperatures fast approaching, some urgency exists.