The results of a Johnston County schools needs assessment came back about as predictable as possible: The county’s oldest schools represent the county’s greatest needs.
Superintendent Ross Renfrow had previously laid out $30 million in immediate needs, and the county hopes to obtain a loan for those. But $30 million is a drop in the building bucket. To fix everything identified in a report by architecture firm Hite Associates – every leaky roof, every cracked ceiling, every broken cabinet – the school system needs more than $100 million.
The needs assessment came out of last spring’s “kitchen conversation” meetings Renfrow held in each attendance area after he took over as superintendent. A common concern raised by parents in those meetings was that Johnston, while doing a good job building new schools, isn’t paying enough attention to the county’s older campuses. Renfrow acknowledged the problem and pledged to close the gap, saying the needs assessment is the first step.
“I think it’s incumbent upon us as a school board and district leadership to know that, yes, we have been providing for growth,” Renfrow said. “But we also have to address those older facilities and get them up to speed as well.”
Jimmy Hite of Hite Associates appeared before the school board at this month’s meeting and presented his findings, highlighting some of the most in-need schools. He said his firm spent several weeks touring all 42 campuses, assessing safety and security, accessibility, the healthiness of the environments, educational program needs, energy efficiency and general repair needs. His findings show that the county’s older schools, either because of past building standards, simple age or slow maintenance, have run up nearly all of the county’s repair bill.
“I thought it was interesting that only $4 million of the $100 million was identified in schools that you have constructed in the last 20 years,” Hite said. “Basically, half of your schools only represent 4 percent of that total figure.”
Within that $100 million, six schools have needs greater than $5 million and three have needs greater than $10 million. The three costliest schools to repair are all high schools: Clayton at $17 million, South Johnston at $15 million and Smithfield-Selma at just north of $10 million.
“I don’t think any of your schools are worn out,” Hite said. “You’ve done an excellent job replacing worn-out schools, but the schools are well used.”
Replacing the flat, rubber roofs of the past will cost the schools nearly $30 million, the most of any single type of work. Converting Clayton High’s roof to all pitched, metal roofing will take more than $6 million, and a half-dozen other schools will cost nearly as much.
“There are a lot of roofing needs,” Hite said. “We like to see metal roofs; you don’t have a problem with metal roofs.”
Hite’s presentation included photos of some of the schools, detailing the toll the years have taken on the buildings. Uneven floors point to water damage at Clayton High; some cabinets at South Johnston are little more than shards of wood; a sign on the door of a staff bathroom at South Smithfield Elementary warns of a very slow draining sink, with “very” underlined three times. By and large, Hite said, the school system is going to have to spend money to bring the older schools into their next era of use.
“There are accessibility codes that need to be recognized,” Hite said about school bathrooms. “These older bathrooms just need to be rebuilt; that’s true in a lot of older schools that we saw.”
Renfrow told the school board that the high-priority work could begin as soon as early next year, assuming the school system gets its $30 million loan. The rest will likely take a bond referendum and a few more years of waiting.
Drew Jackson: 919-553-7234, Ext. 104; @jdrewjackson
Clayton High School
South Johnston High School
Smithfield-Selma High School
Clayton Middle School
Selma Middle School
Cleveland Elementary School
Selma Elementary School
South Smithfield Elementary School
Wilson’s Mills Elementary School
South Campus High School
East Clayton Elementary School
Four Oaks Elementary School
Corinth-Holder Elementary School
Smithfield Middle School
North Johnston High School
West Clayton Elementary School
Princeton Middle and High School
Cooper Elementary School
Glendale-Kenly Elementary School
West Johnston High School
Pine Level Elementary School
River Dell Elementary School
Polenta Elementary School
Riverwood Elementary School
Cleveland Middle School
Powhatan Elementary School
McGee’s Crossroads Elementary School
Benson Middle School
Four Oaks Middle School
Dixon Road Elementary School
McGee’s Crossroads Middle School
Cleveland High School
Corinth Holders High School
West View Elementary School
Riverwood Middle School
West Smithfield Elementary School
Archer Lodge Middle School
Benson Elementary School
Princeton Elementary School
Micro Elementary School
North Johnston Middle School