The Alamance-Burlington, N.C., Board of Education entered their Tuesday, Jan. 9 work session expecting to be wowed by the bells and whistles of the proposed $150 million bond.
Instead, they got a harsh dose of reality.
For the last year-and-a-half, the school system has been working toward putting a $150 million bond on the November 2018 ballot — a bond that would fund the construction of a new high school and renovations and additions to eight out of 36 existing schools.
The board hired Moseley Architects for $198,000, last March, to conduct a facilities study that would produce cost estimates for the work that needs to be done to those schools, as well as provide an estimated cost and capacity number for a new high school.
Moseley was particularly appealing because Lead Architect Ashley Dennis is a 1998 graduate of Walter Williams High School and a Burlington native with family still residing in the city.
Dennis stood before the board, Tuesday, to present their findings.
The "Cadillac" version of the plan came out to $200 million, which means they had to scale back their expectations.
That said, here's what Moseley says the school system can do for $149,822,044:
- Build a brand new, approximately 240,000 square foot high school, with a hallway capacity of 1,250 students and a core (media center and lunchroom) capacity of 1,500. The estimated cost would be $67,012,616.
- Eastern and Western Alamance High School: Enlarge dining areas and increase square footage to up the capacity from 985 and 1,085, respectively, to 1,250. Also do minor and moderate renovations at both schools. The estimated cost for Eastern is $11,657,249. The estimated cost for Western is $12,400,611.
- Southern Alamance High School: Enlarge dining areas and increase square footage to add classrooms, upping the capacity from 1,100 to 1,500 students. Also do minor and moderate renovations. The estimated cost of this is $20,661,931.
- Do minor and moderate renovations to parts of Graham High School and purchase equipment for the school's specialized programs to the tune of $7,619,063.
- Do minor and moderate renovations to parts of Cummings High School, focusing on the lobby and auditorium, for $10,867,063.
- Renovate and replace auditorium seating at Williams High School, do some other minor renovations, and replace outdated toilets, all for $4,646,400.
- Add 16 classrooms to South Mebane Elementary School, do minor and moderate renovations to the school, and construct a new kitchen, renovating the existing kitchen to expand the cafeteria for $8,482,880.
- Do a moderate renovation of Pleasant Grove Elementary School for $6,474,192.
A specific design for the new high school and the nitty-gritty of the renovations were not included in the presentation, and board members questioned how they're supposed to sell a bond to the community when they can't say what, specifically, it's going to pay for.
"I need very detailed [explanations] as to what those renovations are going to be, specifically," board member Patsy Simpson said. "Are you going to address new roofs on buildings or...? I need details before I can make any decisions."
But specifics are not going to come until after the bond passes.
Dennis can only make an educated guess at what the renovations might be, or what the new high school might look like.
"We don't want to hire an architect to design a building that we don't know we're going to have the money to pay for," Harrison said.
The second issue was the use of the words "minor" and "moderate" in regards to renovations to existing schools.
"I've been of the mindset that we're going to have, with the whole package, significant changes to the facilities of all the other schools that we're dealing with," board member Tony Rose said.
If the bond funds the construction of a new high school, he says, the existing schools need to be just as good -- or at least look just as good -- as the new high school does in order for there to be equity in the Alamance-Burlington School System, which is what he and other board members believed they were getting for $150 million.
To see the words "minor" or "moderate" renovations instead of "significant" was a shock.
"I don't know of a building out there that I would think needs 'minor' renovations," Rose said.
Board member Pam Thompson added, "If you remodel your house and paint one room, it ain't all that great if you look at the rest of the house. You either do the rest of the house or nothing. I just want everything for our kids, and for $150 million I think they should get it."
But, Harrison pointed out, they're not going to get 'everything' for $150 million because the needs greatly outweigh funding, especially with schools that are, on average, 50-years-old.
"$150 million doesn't touch our needs," Harrison said. "We need to remember that we're not touching middle schools [and] we're only touching two elementary schools."
Dennis added that, though the schools will not be completely renovated, there will be enough renovations done to make a significant impact, i.e. flooring replacement, painting, window replacement, etc.
"Really, there's no major renovation work being done, but that does not mean that a space can't be 'wow.' ... You can get that out of minor. You can get that. You just have to be creative in the way you spend your money and you have to make sure that your designers are meeting with the right groups to understand what the needs are, because if the paint is great but there's still the bad windows or the glare or the HVAC system that's clanking in the ceiling, you're not going to quite get that, 'Wow!' no matter how nice the space looks.'"
To appease those who have suggested the school system could save money or get more bang for their buck by not building a new high school, Harrison had Moseley determine what the cost would be if they, instead, upped the capacity at Eastern, Western and Southern to 1,700.
This option — including the renovation work at other schools — would cost ABSS an estimated $123,008,100, which would save them around $27 million, but would not fully address current capacity issues or future growth.
Even if a new high school is built, it will address capacity for now, but there will still be capacity issues in the future.
Alamance County Planning Director Libby Hodges has tracked and estimated enrollment numbers for the school system for the last two years by having municipalities report monthly on what developments they've approved and what school system they're in, then using a formula to estimate how many students each development will produce.
At her last presentation, Hodges told board members the school system is currently 800 students over capacity.
Approved developments are estimated to add another 700 to that number, making it 1,500, which, alone, would fill the new high school to its core capacity.
Van Pelt asked if all of the bond work, combined, is enough to accommodate Hodges' estimated growth.
Multiple board members responded, "No."
Despite their disillusionment, the board acknowledged that the new high school is needed to keep ABSS afloat, and that they have to take what they can get as far as renovations.
The board will consider Moseley's presentation again at their February work session, where they will vote to accept the staff's recommendation to bring to the Board of Commissioners in March.