County leaders learn more on ABSS bond renovations, upgrades

Eastern Alamance High School is scheduled to receive an expansion to its cafeteria and the addition of six new classrooms - four for general studies and two for EAHS's Exceptional Children program - as part of the Alamance-Burlington School System's bond schedule. At a recent meeting of the Alamance County Capital Oversight Committee, which includes members of the ABSS Board of Education and the Alamance County Commissioners, extensive information was provided regarding the current progress of the various bond projects. 

Alamance County leaders are rapidly putting together the various plans for the numerous renovations and upgrades set to be completed over the next several years through the passage of the Alamance-Burlington School System/Alamance Community College bond referendums last fall. 

In a recent meeting of members of the county’s Capital Oversight Committee, more light was shed on the current progress of the planning and implementation of the bond funds. 

“This is one of our major responsibilities as far as county government. This has been a historical collaboration,” Alamance County Manager Bryan Hagood said. “We (county staff and the public) kind of look to the (elected) boards for some consensus about the direction that we’re heading with our planning and our project implementation.”

Hagood added that the county hopes to have quarterly meetings of the Capital Oversight Committee in the coming months to keep up with the progress being made, and to keep everyone on the same page. 

“I think it’s a great model to have this two-tiered review (with the Board of Education and County Commissioners) for the sake of transparency,” ABSS Superintendent Dr. Bruce Benson said. “We are making some progress. It’s an exciting time for us in the school system. We’re early in the process.” 

“I think this is a good way to ensure accountability among ourselves. It is a way to ensure we know where we are at any given time. I think that will help us manage the resources better,” added Alamance Community College President Dr. Algie Gatewood. 

Much of the discussion focused on the new high school that will be built in the southeastern part of the county, which will merge the current enrollments of Southern Alamance and Eastern Alamance High Schools. 

Hawfields and Graham Middle Schools will feed to the new high school, which is expected to be a two-story facility. ABSS is currently in negotiations to purchase just under 100 acres of land along N.C. Highway 119 in Haw River, approximately a mile from the Honda Plant in Swepsonville and approximately five miles from the I-40/I-85 freeway interchange.  

“That was the best selection at this time,” Dr. Benson said of entering the land negotiations for the property along Highway 119. “We will first look for an option to buy. We want to make sure the land is appropriate before we buy and purchase.”

Although ABSS Assistant Superintendent for Operations Dr. Todd Thorpe didn’t have a lot of details yet as far as the final design of the new school, he did indicate that the construction was intended to last more than a half a century, if not much longer. He added that it is very unlikely that the school will be designed to accommodate a future elementary or middle school in the long-term future. 

“We’ve not gotten to that point 100 percent yet (as far as design of the new high school),” Thorpe said. “The CMR (Construction Manager at Risk) company (in charge of completing the project) comes in to get value for the dollars they’ve got. Nothing has been taken totally off the plate at this point. It’s approximately 100 acres. It’s a large piece of land. But for a high school, to be able to put in all the athletic complexes, it’s going to take up the majority of the land.” 

Considering that Eastern Alamance High is approaching 60 years of age and is still going strong, despite the need for numerous major upgrades, a new high school designed and constructed with modern technology and building materials could last well into the next century. 

“In the school system, we’re in the business of building for 50, 75 years,” Thorpe said. “We’ve established that it (the new high school) will be there for a hundred years if we take care of it.” 

Eastern Alamance High School is projected to receive approximately $11.6 million in renovation work, including an expansion to the cafeteria/dining space, four new general purpose classrooms, two new classrooms for the school’s Exceptional Children program, and one resource room. 

EAHS is also set to receive a wide variety of renovations and upgrades to existing buildings. The renovations and upgrades to existing buildings will include school safety improvements such as cameras, blinds, and carded entry locks, exterior window replacements where needed, renovation of multi-restroom facilities with new plumbing fixtures, tiles, partitions, and paint, replacement of roof sections and necessary repairs where needed, humidity controls and HVAC upgrades where needed, canopy replacements and repairs, removal of lockers to widen hallways for improved traffic flow, grading work to correct eroding slopes, updates to the school’s switchboard and wiring system, and the replacement of non-Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant cabinetry, sinks, and door hardware. The school will also replace the seating in the EAHS auditorium with new seats. 

Although Eastern High School has an architect on record - Pinnacle Architecture of Matthews, North Carolina - for the various renovation projects to come, and has received copies of a blueprint for the proposed construction work, no action has been taken as of yet in terms of new construction at EAHS. Pinnacle Architecture is also assisting ABSS with the renovations and improvements at Southern Alamance and Western Alamance High Schools. The bond issuance date for the EAHS renovations is March 2021, and the full completion of the renovations is projected for the spring of 2023. 

Like EAHS, South Mebane Elementary School is set for a wide range of upgrades and renovations through the bond. South Mebane is one of the most overcrowded elementary schools in the area, with a current capacity of 102.96 percent - 592 students for a school designed for a maximum of 575 students. 

Approximately $8.48 million is being spent to add 16 new classrooms, a new kitchen, expand the existing kitchen space for more dining, and upgrade the buildings at South Mebane Elementary. The school will also get a re-floored gymnasium, and the contractors will be remediating a variety of erosion issues on the school site. 

Morris-Berg Architects of Charlotte has been approved by ABSS to complete the upgrades and renovations at South Mebane Elementary. Representatives of the architectural firm have already started the process of researching the South Mebane grounds in order to determine exactly what they’ll need to do to make all the repairs and upgrades a reality in the coming years. 

“They have looked into every hole there could possibly be. They have done a lot of investigation into the building. They have looked at blueprints,” ABSS Assistant Superintendent for Operations Dr. Todd Thorpe said. “

The upgrades at South Mebane also include school safety improvements, and the replacement of vinyl composite tile flooring and carpet, to be replaced by tile flooring. Other improvements include new plumbing fixtures in the multi-restroom facilities, partitions and paint in the bathrooms, humidity and HVAC upgrades and necessary installations, replacement of windows in the cafeteria and media center, replacement of non-ADA compliant cabinetry, sinks, and door hardware, the installation of an ADA accessible main entrance, repairs to damaged and cracked sidewalks, and necessary roof replacements and repairs. 

According to Thorpe, the South Mebane Elementary renovation project will come online right after the new high school and the modifications to Southern Alamance High School. The bond revenues for this project is scheduled for September 2020, and the completion date is set for April 2022. 

E.M. Yoder Elementary School and Garrett Elementary School do not have bond-related repairs scheduled. Yoder and Garrett received several upgrades back in the summer of 2016, with Yoder receiving a new paint job, a fire alarm panel, and a new awning, which cost the school system approximately $96,000, and Garrett getting new carpeting and tile throughout the facility, which cost approximately $45,000. This past summer, Garrett received additional carpet removal and tile installation throughout various parts of the Garrett Elementary/Hawfields Middle School complex, which cost $25,000. 

Neither of Mebane’s two middle schools - Hawfields and Woodlawn - are set to receive bond repairs either, although Woodlawn Middle did receive new carpeting in its classrooms back in 2016, which cost approximately $66,000. 

Pleasant Grove Elementary School is also receiving considerable renovations through the bond, with approximately $6.74 million being invested in the 90-year-old facility. Along with many of the same safety improvements, restroom renovations, humidity and HVAC replacements and upgrades, window replacement, and ADA-compliant renovations that other ABSS schools are receiving, Pleasant Grove is also set for repairs to aging electrical panels and mechanical equipment throughout the school, along with erosion control and repairs to the entrance canopy. 

Sud Associates, P.A. of Durham has been selected by ABSS to complete the renovations at Pleasant Grove. Sud Associates is also completing the renovations at Williams High School. 

“They (Sud Associates) have pulled blueprints, looked at schematics,” Dr. Thorpe explained. “That building (Pleasant Grove), because of the age of it, has a lot of older equipment. They are in the process of discovery, to find out what they need to do to take it up to current code.” 

County leaders are considering adding a measure on either the spring 2020 primary or fall 2020 general election ballot proposing to Alamance County voters a quarter-cent sales tax increase to offset some of the various costs incurred by ABSS, ACC, and Alamance County for various ongoing educational financial needs. A similar measure was defeated by the county’s voters in the fall of 2018, at the same time that the ABSS and ACC bonds were being approved by a wide margin. 

The County Commissioners and ABSS would consider any passed new sales tax to help defray the operation costs of new educational buildings, reduce property taxes on local citizens, increase capital funding to a targeted percentage of the replacement value of various projects, paying for identified capital projects that are currently not funded, and consideration of increased security measures such as School Resource Officers, locking systems, and audio-visual monitoring systems, among other options.

Updated information on the various ABSS and ACC bond projects can be reviewed at alamancecapitalprojects.com.