At its February meeting, the Johnston County Board of Commissioners approved $2.4 million in school-improvement projects, the first of presumably several outlays as Johnston undertakes $30 million of the county’s most-needed school upgrades.
Last year, the school system hired Hite Associates to assess the county’s schools and buildings. The report came back with $100 million in needs, some significant, some cosmetic. But within that $100 million, the school system identified $30 million in critical needs, including roof replacements and heating and cooling upgrades.
With Monday’s county approval, Johnston schools can take on six projects now: new roofs at Four Oaks Elementary and Smithfield Middle schools, new football stadium bleachers at Clayton High School and new chillers at Selma Middle, Cooper Elementary and East Clayton Elementary.
The bids for some projects came in below early estimates, with the biggest savings gap found in the Four Oaks Elementary roof project, which will cost $197,000 instead of an estimated $531,000. The project will replace the school’s failing flat membrane roof with a metal pitched roof.
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The new roof at Smithfield Middle will cost $639,000 after an estimate of $749,000. That roof will again be a flat membrane, with a 30-year lifespan, because the school’s heating and cooling systems are also on the roof.
“Doing a pitched roof would end up costing four times that amount of money,” said Patrick Jacobs, director of operations.
New sideline bleachers at Clayton High School will cost $175,000, about $30,000 less than expected. Jacobs said the aged bleachers are dangerous and out of step with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Clayton High will demolish and replace the visitor side bleachers while upgrading those on the home side.
“The main goal is to make our fans and students safe,” Jacobs said.
The county will end up paying much more than expected to replace the Selma Middle chiller, part of the school’s cooling system. The chiller itself will cost $428,000 to replace, and Jacobs is now recommending replacing the electrical controls as well, an additional expense of $166,000.
“It would be like renovating a 100-year old house but not upgrading the electrical system as well,” Jacobs said.
For the better part of the last year, a rented portable chiller has cooled Selma Middle to the tune of $14,000 a month.
Two projects have yet to go to bid, the new chiller at Cooper Elementary, estimated at $133,000, and the chiller and cooling tower at East Clayton Elementary, expected to cost $449,000. The school system began accepting bids last week. Jacobs said he couldn’t speculate on how reality will match up with estimates.
“Every school is different,” he said. “It’s not like switching out an air-conditioning unit at your house; they have to be designed for the specific piping system at each school.”
Commissioners voted to front the schools the $2.4 million needed for the six projects.
Jacobs said work on the four projects that have gone to bid will begin March 1 and should take no more than four months to complete. Superintendent Ross Renfrow said the roof work and chiller replacements won’t interfere with classroom time. The bleacher project at Clayton High School is coming down to the wire, though, and Jacobs said it’s possible the new bleachers will not be in place in time for graduation in June.