School Board talks capital projects

Published 10:01 pm Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Northern Shores Elementary School, the future use of the former Driver Elementary School and potential new and replacement schools were the topics of conversation during a discussion on capital projects at the School Board’s Aug. 8 meeting.

Suffolk Public Schools Director of Facilities and Planning Terry Napier outlined the 12 items on the current Capital Improvements Plan to the board, noting that some might want to be either removed or adjusted.

“The projects that are current in there, we need to look at that and make sure that you have the opportunity to look at that and decide if that’s how you want this to look when we present it to (City) Council this go-around,” Napier told the board.

Napier noted the issues surrounding Northern Shores Elementary School when the board adopted its CIP last September, initially approving a 10-room addition for it. After reviewing it, the board changed its recommendation in favor of a two-story, 20-room addition to the school, but he noted it was too late to be included in the city’s CIP.

“I don’t know what kind of discussions you want to have about that at this point,” Napier said, “but there have been many in the past. There was also a discussion … at your joint meeting with the council where it was brought up that perhaps another avenue would be building another school rather than having an addition. Perhaps you will want to discuss going that route as well.”

Capital replacements top the board’s current CIP. Those includes heating, ventilation and air conditioning, or HVAC, system replacements.

Napier said that, at some point in time, that money will also be used to repair roofs, stormwater drainage and infrastructure. It’s money — currently $2.5 million — that the city is putting in the budget to use “hopefully every year.”

For ongoing, hazardous materials management, Napier said it includes $75,000 yearly for asbestos and various other hazardous materials for the school division to deal with.

“Those two items need to stay in (the CIP),” Napier said.

As for the operations facility at Mount Zion, he told the board that the phase one work is “going as well as expected at this point.” The board approved roughly $11.9 million of work for the second phase over the next two fiscal years, but council pushed that back by four years.

“That one creates a bind for us in terms of moving into that new facility, because we simply can’t do it until phase two is finished — all of it,” Napier said. “Some of us — food services, print shop, textbooks, archives and records — they’re going to be moving into that building next summer. The remainder of the facilities department cannot move into the building until phase two is finished. That’s a big one for us.”

The Excel Academy is no longer planned for the old Driver Elementary School — instead, it will be in two classrooms at John Yeates Middle School. Currently, Driver is being used primarily to store items to be moved into the operations facility at Mount Zion, he said.

Interim Superintendent Dr. LaToya Harrison said Driver’s future use could be a CIP consideration. Currently, she said, there is no plan for it, and no programs there currently.

With a school facilities needs assessment and attendance zone plan in the Request for Proposal process, Napier said items in the current CIP to replace John F. Kennedy, Forest Glen and John Yeates middle schools, as well as replace Kilby Shores Elementary School, add a downtown elementary school and a northern end high school could change.

“I’ve been in facilities for 12 years, and (a northern end high school) has been number 12 on this list for 12 years,” Napier said, referring to the CIP. “And the city will tell you they have no intention at this point of even talking to you about a high school. But just in case at some point in the future we need one, that is essentially a placeholder.”

Napier said over the course of the next month, the board will need to make any recommended adjustments to the CIP, adopt it and allow the division’s executive director of finance, Wendy Forsman, to present it to the city. The upcoming CIP will not take into account the facilities study, but Napier said future CIPs will.

Board member Tyron Riddick asked whether all three middle schools on the current CIP could be replaced without buying land in other places in the city. He said that there’s enough land at John F. Kennedy, Forest Glen and John Yeates to add on to them, and it would be a less expensive alternative.

“It’s possible that it could be done,” Napier said. “It has been done in other places, but for us to do that at our three middle schools, I think it would be very difficult. I think finding new land, which is available, because we’ve looked, is just a question of when and where. But I think as far as efficiency and getting these projects built, I think it would be much, much easier for all of us if we did it on a new site rather than trying to go behind an existing school.”

Napier said John Yeates doesn’t have land available, and while there is land available at John F. Kennedy, it could be difficult to acquire. Board Vice Chairwoman Dr. Judith Brooks-Buck said she is concerned about adding on and keeping John F. Kennedy at its current site because of flooding issues there.

Riddick also proposed that additions to the middle schools could be built upward, rather than outward, and that future schools should be built for growth, not just for current needs.

However, Napier cautioned that city residents have been reluctant to pay for schools with empty classrooms.

“Just keep in mind, when we talk about this CIP, it’s a 10-year plan, (but) the reality is, it’s a one-year plan,” Napier said. “It’s funded once yearly. So, anything after about year five becomes, essentially, placeholders. Anything can happen across the course of five years, and a lot of these projects may not even appear.”