Sparing sections of the school could cost upwards of $3M
A recommendation to demolish the old Pierce County High School was met with caution as at least two board members advocated a go slow approach for determining what to do with the 40 year old building.
School superintendent Dr. Kevin Smith asked Harbin Farr, the school system’s maintenance director, to give recommendations for what to do with the old high school after the item came up for discussion at the school board’s January meeting.
Farr gave a report on those options at last Thursday’s BOE work session. Farr said he asked the school system’s architect, Mike Parker, of SP Design Group in Macon, to give recommendations. Parker included $1.1 million for demolition of the old PCHS as part of the contract for construction of the new PCHS.
The first option, which calls for complete demolition of the building, would range between $530,000 and $708,000. Parker explained the concrete and block in the old building would be salvaged and crushed and could be sold, resulting in a savings of between $500,000 and $700,000 on the original demolition estimate.
The second option for the old school has a price tag of $3,361,689 – more than $2 million above funds previously allocated for the project.
The second option calls for saving the gym and the concession stand and front classroom there and the administration area adjacent to the gym. The remainder of the building would be demolished.
Parker said the cost of saving a portion of the school is high because the administration area would have to be saved. It is part of the support structure for the gymnasium area. The electrical, plumbing and air conditioning would have to be re-worked and the exterior facade would have to be bricked over to close up the exposed, open area where the administration area is and also to help match the new high school.
“The more you keep, the higher the price, because you have to be careful to preserve what is there if you are going to continue to use it,” said Farr.
Board chairperson Linda Zechmann said she didn’t believe the board should continue to kick the decision down the road. She asked for recommendations on what to do with the old high school.
“My recommendation is to tear it down and be done with it,” said Farr emphatically.
The recommendation was met with calls for caution and a go slow approach by second district board member Mitch Hall and third district board member Chip Griner.
Both said they were speaking based on feedback they have received from their constituents.
“This is a touchy situation,” Hall said. “There are people out there in the community who want us to save it.”
Meetings on the disposition of the old PCHS have generated numerous ideas, few of which are economically viable. The second option is one of those.
Most suggestions are to save the gymnasium for team practices at the high school and for use by the Pierce County Recreation Department.
“I want us to slow down and wait until at least after the budget work sessions,” said Griner.
Fourth district board member Duward Boatright hedged on waiting to make a decision, but did have a word of caution.
“I don’t want us to tear the old school down and then in a year or two come back and say we’ve got to build something else because we are out of room,” Boatright said.
Farr appeared surprised by the reaction to his recommendation.
Speaking to Hall, he said there are many in the community who want to see the school demolished.
Addressing Griner’s concerns, Farr pointed out the old building is already costing the school system money and would continue to do so in the future.
Farr pointed out all future expenses on the building would be a local expense. The state will no longer provide any maintenance funds for the old PCHS.
He also gave an energy cost comparison as a basic case in point. The old PCHS’s electric bills ranged from between $14,000-$19,000 in its last year of operation. By contrast the energy bill for the new PCHS for its first month of operation in January was just $5,000. Farr pointed out the old PCHS building is closed, the lights and air conditioning have been turned off and the power bill was still $7,900 in January.
“We told the taxpayers when we passed the sales tax to build the new school that we could not renovate the old PCHS,” he said.”We are not going to get any more state money to maintain the old school. That’s gone. All the future upkeep will be paid by local taxpayers.”
Hall acknowledged the cost estimates of saving the school “speak volumes” but he said he just wanted more time to think about the decision.
Hall suggested hosting basketball and cheerleading tournaments and renting the old facility out could cover operation costs for saving the building.
Farr replied to cover operational costs the system would have to set high reservation fees.
“We still own the building and we can’t operate BOE facilities for use by other entities,” Farr said.
Notably the county commission has expressed no interest in buying the facility for the recreation department.
Hall and Griner noted there is some sentimentality attached to the old building, since almost 40 high school classes graduated there. Both also said that beside the sentiment, the building itself has value.
Farr said he didn’t think so.
“It’s dilapidated, the roof is leaking and the air conditioning is on its last leg,” Farr said.
First district board member Jack Saussy said taxpayers would make the ultimate decision.
“When our local folks find out they are going to have to pay to operate the building and maintain it going forward, I think you will see all that sentimental value go out the window,” Saussy said.
Farr and Dr. Smith pointed out saving a portion of the old PCHS will cut into funds needed for other capital improvements in the system.
Additional capital projects include parking lot and track upgrades at the middle school, insulation and air conditioning upgrades system-wide and improvements to the baseball and football fields at the high school.
It was also noted that charter schools could ask to use the old building and under the law the school system would have to provide them space to operate and maintain the building.
No final decision was made on what to do about the old PCHS.