Columbus Municipal School District board member Josie Shumake, President Jason Spears and Superintendent Cherie Labat review price quotes for district-wide capital improvements during Wednesday's board review meeting at Sale Elementary School. The board discussed more than $2 million in improvements to school parking lots, buildings and renovations. The board will continue and prioritize improvements during its regular board meeting on Monday. Photo by: Mary Pollitz/Dispatch Staff
January 10, 2019 11:02:33 AM
Columbus Municipal School District could spend more than $2.6 million on capital improvements over the next five years.
The board of trustees discussed the school's capital improvement plan during its board review meeting Wednesday afternoon at Sale Elementary School. District improvements were categorized by immediate, moderate and future concerns which include multiple parking lot repairs, landscaping and extensive Hunt Alternative School repairs and renovations.
Superintendent Cherie Labat said she discovered a problem firsthand during her first football game at Columbus High School, prompting her to look for other infrastructural issues district-wide.
"Every time I went to a football game, I thought one of my wheels was going to pop off of my car," Labat said. "I put this down in the vault. ... It's just structurally time. It's maintenance time and it's time for us to evaluate what we need to do from a district perspective."
Labat contacted engineer Kevin Stafford with Neel-Schaffer and architect Major Andrews with Major Design Studio for price quotes on the district's capital improvement needs.
Stafford and Andrews presented quotes for each project, but the most dire concern for Stafford was the high school football field parking lot, which he said has deteriorated. The cost of restructuring the parking lot, both the south entry and the north entry, would total approximately $700,000.
"My first job when I was a sophomore in college was to help build that parking lot and that was in 1999," Stafford said. "We're at 20 years now and that parking lot has not been touched. The normal shelf life on something like that is no more than about 15 years. The other thing we discovered in talking to the architect who originally designed it is that parking lot was meant for (personal vehicle) traffic, not buses. It's well gone beyond repair."
Another concern, which Stafford said has become a common complaint, is parent pickup at Sale Elementary School. With the way the parking lot and car pick-up lane is set up now, cars overload onto Warpath Road, creating traffic buildup. Stafford proposed a $17,000 plan to have parents come through a new gate behind Sale Elementary and have them line up in the football parking lot to eliminate traffic build-up on the main road.
"Certainly that's something that I think needs to be rectified now for the safety aspect not only for students and parents but any other (member of the) public trying to get up and down the street," board president Jason Spears said.
Though the board did not take action Wednesday, Spears asked board members to rank the most important improvements to discuss during its regular board meeting on Monday.
"We're going to look at the priorities and let the board decide what to do first," Labat said. "It is a long-term plan. We're going to do what we can afford a little at a time."
Spears said the district would use unspent budgeted costs to pay for smaller projects, such as the Sale Elementary pick-up line. He also proposed creating a district savings account for excess funds to finance the more expensive projects.
The district does not plan to raise taxes or issue bonded debt for any of the projects, Spears said.
Proposed projects just for the Hunt campus on 20th Street North total a little more than $1.2 million and are broken into three phases.
Andrews, who would work strictly with Hunt improvements, cited immediate safety concerns that need to be amended in Phase I. He said the skylight in the Hunt gymnasium is leaking and ruining the wood floor with water damage which could be resolved with $2,500. Another issue was the annex building which currently serves as a storage facility for the district. Labat said a number of windows have been broken with rocks, causing a security issue. Andrews suggested replacing that glass with aluminum panels which would total about $160,000.
Currently, the Hunt gymnasium has access to the school's building, which Labat said was a major concern. Andrews suggested installing a new gym entrance for $17,200 and fixing the door connecting the gym to the school for $1,000.
"The reason for that, currently we have a (memorandum of understanding) with (Columbus) parks and recreation," Labat said. "So they have access to the building on weekends. Our public property is accessible to whoever is in that gym at all times. It's a safety issue. It's a supervision issue. We don't have a way of separating that part of the building that we pretty much lease out for free to the other part of the building. We have computers. You break a glass, you can open the door."
Phases II and III -- which make up more than $1 million of the total -- would include a new elevator, converting existing classrooms to administrative offices, renovating bathrooms, installing new bathrooms in the gymnasium, upgrading classrooms and landscaping improvements.
Labat told the board she scheduled a conference call next week with the Mississippi Department of Archives and History about designating Hunt as a State Historic Landmark. Until Columbus schools desegregated in 1971, Hunt was one of the only black high schools in Lowndes County.
The former Lee High, which was the white school before integration, has already been made a state landmark and sold to a private developer.
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