Schools seek disabilities compliance

Published 8:43 pm Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Brookhaven School District administrators have been authorized to move forward with plans to bring the district into compliance with provisions of the federal Americans With Disabilities Act, but uncertainty remains regarding the best response to serious and urgent infrastructure problems at the district’s alternative school.

Following a hearing held in closed session Monday night to deal with a student matter, district Maintenance Director Joe Morgan presented school board members with estimates of how much the district will have to pay for the blueprints and architectural renderings required by the district’s most pressing renovation projects.

Morgan estimates architectural plans outlining ADA compliance will cost approximately $17,600.

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Compliance has been identified as a No. 1 priority by Morgan and Superintendent Lisa Karmacharya.

The actual construction cost to bring the district’s school buildings up to the standards of the ADA will run about $220,500, according to estimates.

At the school board’s regularly scheduled board meeting in February, board trustees had requested they receive estimated costs for architectural drawings.

With those estimates in hand Monday, approving the ADA-related projects proved relatively easily.

However, the future of Fannie Mullins School, home to the district’s alternative program, remains undecided.

Urgency exists, however.

“We’re sitting over there, and we don’t have cooling,” Morgan said.

The air conditioning is out at Mullins due to a broken chiller. The existing cooling system in 25 years old, and Morgan has told board members he believes it’s not worth the cost to repair it. He has pointed to the recurring repairs costs the current system has required.

Initially, Karmacharya and Morgan recommended reducing the amount of air-conditioned space at Mullins, moving the alternative program to what’s now the Central Office and making Mullins the new Central Office.

As it is now, the district’s administrative offices are split between the Central Office and Mullins.

That proposal would have cost about $1.6 million.

However, due to concern about the costs by board members, Karmacharya at last week’s board meeting presented a new proposal: move the alternative program into a trailer owned by the district and reduce the Mullins staff to provide further savings.

Monday evening, board member Willie Harrison expressed reservations about the proposal.

“I’m not really satisfied with the alternative school going the way it is,” he said. “On a temporary basis, I might be able to buy into it. But this looks permanent.”

He was further critical of the idea to eventually use traditional faculty at the high school to run the alternative program.

“I think we’re overlooking what we’re here for,” he said. “I know you’re trying to save dollars, but maybe sometimes we ought to go ahead and spend those dollars.”

Karmacharya acknowledged the difficulty of the decisions involved.

“Whatever we do, it’s not going to satisfy everyone,” she said. “There is going to be some angst whatever the decision by the board.”

She has also highlighted for board members an additional budget squeeze that’s likely imminent due to an expected reduction in federal money schools receive.

With only three of five members present Monday night, the board barely had a quorum. Current board member Karen Braden is also slated to be replaced next month by Pat Lowery.

Citing those factors and the need for more time to review options, board members decided to again delay a decision about how to deal with the needs of the Mullins facility.

“This is a decision that has more than brick and mortar attached to it,” board member Stan Patrick said.