BES roof hot topic at School Board meeting
A handful of parents, who had also attended last week’s county commission meeting, were on hand to express their thoughts and concerns.
Polk County’s School Board met last Monday for their regular monthly meeting. Aside from routine business, much discussion centered around the roof needs at Benton Elementary School. A handful of parents, who had also attended last week’s county commission meeting, were on hand to express their thoughts and concerns.
Board Chairman Gary Silvers told the board and those in attendance an extensive survey of the building had been done, adding “it didn’t cost a dime.” Silvers said now that the Fire Marshall had been called, structural engineers would have to be brought in and it will lead to more cost for the taxpayer. He said a visit from the Fire Marshall was uncalled for and would now involve big dollars. Silvers said an architectural contractor who was licensed, bonded, and insured was all that was needed to meet he requirement of the roof system, but the Fire Marshall’s involvement would “squeeze us.” Silvers said when taxes go up, “we’ll know why.”
According to Silvers, the cost of the roof is about $15 per square foot on average, but if the substructure and decking were damaged it would cost about $50 per square foot. He said the ceiling tiles would have to be stripped in order to find out and the issue had to be addressed. Silvers said the gym roof was in good shape at Benton Elementary and the annex building at Chilhowee Middle needed to be addressed but not re-roofed. He said there had been a leak in the CMS gym, but it was just one leak and could be repaired. Silvers said it would be a waste of tax dollars to do the entire thing if some portions were still in good shape.
Silvers said he had been working on gathering information about the need for roof work for a year and had been asked to do so by County Executive Hoyt Firestone. He said he had kept it quiet while all the information and numbers were calculated. Silvers said he didn’t need a structural engineer to tell him what the problems were, but now that one had to be hired they had to regroup.
According to Silvers, there may not be as many leaks at Chilhowee Middle, but there was a lot of standing water which causes structural damage. He said Benton Elementary’s roof had been leaking for a while and was re-roofed 13-14 years ago. “We’ve been down this road before,” Silvers said, adding he couldn’t speak for the Fire Marshall and didn’t want to, but he had pictures and information ready to give to the county commission’s building committee pending the results of the structural engineer’s funding that needed to be appropriated.
Asked about the mold problem, Silvers said they could not kill the mold until they stopped the water.
Melanie Lewis said she had called the Fire Marshall and initially felt bad, but was angry that Silvers said she should not have called. Silvers said he never said she shouldn’t have called, but wished she had called him first. He said the proper chain was to come to the board because that’s where it had to start. Lewis said she just wanted to know her child was safe; Silvers said no one could say whether or not it is safe. Lewis said the structural engineer was trained; Silvers said he would require it to be stripped down to see the damage. Lewis said she thought all the board wanted to do was fix what they could with the money they had and calling the Fire Marshall ensured it would be done right. Silvers pointed out they had no money.
Lewis said she had called Director of Schools James Jones before calling the Fire Marshall. Jones asked her what he told her when she called. Lewis said Jones told her someone was going to be looking at it the next Tuesday, but she never heard anything back after that. Silvers said he had more information in the book he had been compiling for the last year than what the Fire Marshall had. Lewis said she didn’t think they were taking the problem as seriously as they should. She said she did not want to argue, just wanted her son to be safe.
Silvers said he understood where Lewis was coming from and pointed out the safety of the kids was why he brought it out to begin with.
Board Member Shawn Pritchett said it would be best not to point fingers between the school board and county commission and asked the board what they thought of the idea to place a sales tax referendum back on the ballot. Silvers said it could be used in a lot of ways but would never pass. Pritchett pointed out there were a lot of other maintenance problems in other schools, such as carpet problems at South Polk, but that the commission only had so much money. Silvers said the roof at Copper Basin Elementary was probably in worse shape than the one at Benton.
Brenda Kirkland said she wanted to see the sales tax referendum on the ballot, but also had a number of fundraising ideas to help. She said the commission said the referendum failed last time because the school board didn’t get behind it. Silvers said it didn’t pass because people didn’t vote for it. Kirkland said she had a fundraising concert scheduled in January at the Johnson Center in Cleveland. She said other ideas included allowing people to donate online, having donation boxes decorated by students at local businesses, a raffle for a gun from Benton Shooters Supply, a silent auction, and a “buy a shingle” program. Silvers told her to give a list of all potential fundraising activities to Dr. Jones for legal purposes.
Silvers said he was going to get the information presented to the commission, adding, “the less talk that’s done, the better we are.” He said he would let them have the information and let them make their decision as to what to do. He said he was just trying to explain to the parents how it works and that the school board had not been with the commission yet. He said they had the same concerns as the parents, adding they had students in the school system as well. Silvers said he’d been told by a couple commissioners they would have to look at a capital outlay note, but it was up to them how they wanted to proceed. He said it was not “raise taxes and fix the roof, it’s fix the roof and figure out how to pay for it.”
Kirkland said they would help get the word out and that US101 and Channel 3 have both offered to give them air-time. She said if they could have copies of the pictures to show other parents it could help change their minds on voting for the referendum. She said a report by channel 9 had gone viral and that is what got so many parents interested. Board member Mark Williams said there were 2599 students and asked how many parents were there, commenting it “must not have gone too viral.” Silvers said he’d seen the building full other times parents were concerned.
Williams explained the school system did not get a penny more than what the commission gave them and they used every penny, most of which on salaries. Roberta Campbell asked what it would take to get new schools built, saying no work had been done on the old schools in so long they were beyond repair. She said commissioners could impose a wheel tax if they wanted to. Silvers said it would be the county commission’s decision. He said it was a process and they would be meeting with the building committee to discuss the issue.
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