School board at odds over funding
by Danny Wade
The Humboldt School Board had major decisions to make last Thursday during the February 16 meeting. There were two big issues that were on the table, both dealing with funding.
Renovations ongoing at the old Jr. high auditorium have run slightly over the original budget by approximately $13,000. Last month director of schools, Dr. Versie Hamlett, presented a request for an additional $650,000 to complete the auditorium project but also included several upgrades to make the facility nicer. The board voted down the request for the additional funding.
After holding a work session on Tuesday night concerning the project, new figures were presented Thursday night to the board to complete the auditorium.
According to a renovation summary sheet presented to the board, the original project under contract has a price tag $1,131,534. Additional funds for temporary security window covering would add $18,589 to the budget.
The previous school board approved the entire building/renovation $4.5 million project that included the over $3 million to renovate Stigall Primary School. Renovations at the Humboldt Jr./Sr. High School gym and football stadium were part of that plan. The final phase of the project was renovating the auditorium while using a portion of the existing Jr. high for the Board of Education Central Office and a boardroom.
Members of the previous board were Lee Williams, Phillip Hardee and Papa Chuck Samples who are no longer board members. Terry Johnson and Leon McNeal served on that board as well and are on the current board.
With this $1 million-plus, the auditorium project includes renovating the old band room, auditorium, foyer and corridor, and restrooms. There will be 546 new hard plastic seats, sprinkler system, upgraded electrical and new flooring.
The summary sheet included two optional upgrades for upholstered seat backs and bottoms at a cost of $30,000, and $200,000 for audio, video, lighting, curtains and acoustics.
“Last meeting you asked for $650,000. Tuesday, during the work session, to finish the auditorium I wrote down $482,000. Tonight we’re given new number,” board member Lori Coleman said. “Why three different numbers?”
Dr. Hamlett explained, saying the original budget for the auditorium was $1 million. After the Stigall renovations were complete, work began at the auditorium. At that time, all of the figures were not in.
“The $650,000 we asked for included tearing down the other part of the building (of the old Jr. high),” Dr. Hamlett continued.
It also included the audio/visual equipment, cushioned seats and converting the old library into a boardroom or community room.
“When this started, we did not know what we were getting into. It’s a money pit,” Coleman said. “When this was approved, they weren’t thinking of the kids. We are worrying about a building not attached to our school. I feel like we are between a rock and a hard place.”
Board member Leon McNeal had his own opinion and seemed to take offense to Coleman’s remarks about thinking about the kids.
“I’m glad Ms. Coleman said that when she said ‘thinking about the kids’,” McNeal said. “What about Stigall? At one time they were talking about dozing it down, 60 years of history. I was mad. We should have fought a long time ago. We finally got it fixed.”
Board member Valeria Smith-Wedley said she doesn’t know why the Jr. high is being renovated.
“Historically that building has lots of history,” Smith-Wedley said. “What we don’t agree on—is there not enough going on at that building to affect how our kids learn? The Jr. high (renovation project) should have never been allowed.”
“We lose money if we stop; we put more money into it to continue,” board member Wayne McLemore added. “If we use it (auditorium) we will have to bus kids back and forth.”
Coleman motioned to table further discussion until everyone had time to go over the new numbers and make an informed decision.
McNeal said there was no need to table it since the project was approved, contracts signed and construction to be done.
“It’s been approved whether we table it or not,” he noted. “I would like to know what the community thinks about the auditorium.”
McLemore seconded the motion to table, which passed by a 3-2 vote with Johnson and McNeal voting not to table.
The next big agenda item was how to spend $500,000 being donated to the school system from a local corporation.
“Not toward the auditorium! Smith-Wedley quickly said. “Let’s look at technology.”
Coleman asked if there was a deadline. Dr. Hamlett said she needed to get the donor a project report in seven days, by Wednesday, February 21.
Dr. Hamlett provided several options but noted it was the board’s decision where the money should be spent.
First was to completely renovate all four restrooms at HJSHS at an estimated cost of $68,000.
Another option was either renovating the concession stand at the football stadium, or building a new concession stand that would include ADA approved restrooms. Estimates to renovate were $11,000 or $217,000 for new with restrooms.
Lowering the ceilings with a drop ceiling grid and tiles for approximately $157,000 was another option. This would make the building look better plus energy savings could pay for it within an estimated five years.
Dr. Hamlett’s last suggestion was to expedite the One-to-One technology project where every student has his or her own laptop/tablet computer. Humboldt City Schools is presently enacting this project two grades at a time. The project runs on a three-year lease, which has a cost of $48,000 for two grades.
Coleman motioned to put $175,000 toward renovating the HJSHS restrooms, renovating the existing concession stand but adding two new ADA restrooms onto the building and using the remaining $325 toward expanding the One-to-One technology project.
Dr. Hamlett noted that a portion of the money designated for technology could be put into a specific fund to be used for the recurring costs of the One-to-One program.
This plan was approved unanimously.