Enterprise City Schools Board of Education members met in a called work session on Tuesday, March 23 to discuss the end of Gov. Kay Ivey’s mask ordinance and a bid for the HVAC and window projects at several of the schools.
Superintendent Greg Faught opened the meeting by asking board members for their opinion on whether masks should continue to be required in schools after April 9. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends for the public to continue to wear masks, Faught said.
“I’m all for following the CDC’s recommendation myself,” Steven Duke said. “I like to err on the side of safety if at all possible. With six weeks of school left, why change it so close to the end?”
Marty Williams and Rodrick Caldwell agreed with the sentiment.
“I’ve talked to a couple of doctors just to get their opinion, and they said, ‘If you’ve come this far, why would you do something different right here at the end?’” Williams said.
Faught said he also spoke with several local physicians and a state physician to gain their insight, and they expressed the same thought.
“It was basically, ‘Don’t tempt fate in a difficult situation, especially when we’ve seen improvements in the spread,’” he said. “The numbers have been encouraging lately, and I do think the masks help prevent the spread of COVID -19. I’m a little concerned about Spring Break and what’s going on in Florida right now in various spots. People tend to let their guard down, and I don’t want to see a spike once we get back in school.”
After talking with other superintendents, Faught said they really only have two options: everyone wears them, or make it optional for students but mandatory for teachers. Duke said he liked the last option the least.
“I know within the community there’s going to be different opinions, but the science behind this and the way it’s been explained to me is, kids who aren’t wearing one aren’t able to help protect everyone else around them,” he said, “so even if someone else is wearing a mask, this is designed to contain your own germs. So even if the kids aren’t wearing them, the teachers are going to have to wear some type of extraordinary medical mask. It’s going to have to be something different than what we have now. The masks are intended to protect others from you, not really the other way around.”
Caldwell asked if mask restrictions could be eased outside, and Faught said that if everyone was appropriately distanced, he felt it was safe for both students and teachers to be able to remove their masks.
No action can be taken during a work session, and Faught said they’ll wait until after Spring Break to make a decision.
Faught said they normally wouldn’t call a work session to discuss a project bid, but because the bid came in around $700,000 over budget, he felt it was necessary. The budget for the HVAC and window project is $1.7 million with a construction budget of $1,434,588. The submitted bid was $2,155,400.
Dauphin Junior High School and Pinedale Elementary School are the sites for HVAC and window replacements, and Rucker Boulevard and Harrand Creek elementary schools will only have the windows replaced.
Despite being close to a million dollars over budget, Faught said it was something they needed to seriously consider because of how necessary these replacements are.
“Regardless, I think this is something we need to proceed with one way or another because those air conditioning units are very old, and the window situation in these schools needs to be addressed,” he said. “We can kick this down the road a little, but in fact, we’re being encouraged to go ahead and move on this.”
To help figure out an acceptable solution, Faught sought the help of Pam Christian, Enterprise City Schools chief financial officer.
Christian suggested using Public School & College Authority (PSCA) funds from the state that do not have to be repaid, or possibly using Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Funds (ESSER II)—a state grant that can be used for COVID-19-related improvements and upgrades. The HVAC replacement project would meet the requirements of the grant, but they would have to include the addition of a UV-light component that helps prevent the spread of COVID-19 through AC systems.
The addition of the light would add an extra $35,000 to the cost of the project, though it would allow for the two projects to be split financially. ESSER II funds would cover $960,000 of the HVAC project, and after the window replacement is completed, $264,588 would be leftover from the bond issue for other projects outlined in the capital plan.
Christian said the application for the ESSER II funds is due on June 1, so there is still time for further discussion.
Caldwell asked Maintenance Supervisor Matt Routley if this was a “kick the can down the road issue,” or if they needed to do this as soon as possible.
“Well, we’ve got several things going on. With the windows at Harrand Creek… they’ve been deteriorating since the time that building was built back in 1984, 1985. They’re rotten,” he said. “We’ve been repairing those as best we can, but they’re about to fall out. They’re the worst ones in the system.
“The ones at Pinedale, Dauphin and Rucker Boulevard are the old single-pane, un-insulated windows that are not energy efficient at all. A lot of them, when you turn the air conditioning units on, we’ll have some rattles and leaks. We’re constantly trying to repair those.”
Routley said the AC units at Dauphin are around 30 years old, and the ones at Pinedale aren’t far behind at 27 to 28 years old. Due to the old age of the units, he added that they’re having trouble finding replacement parts.
“The life expectancy of these types of units are from 12 to 15 years, so we’ve gotten around double the life expectancy out of them,” he said. “It’s becoming an issue that we can’t kick down the road. I think we’ve kicked that can about as far as we can.”
He estimated the project to take around eight months depending on the availability of materials. He also said there will potentially be some disruption to the classroom since school will be in session over the projected completion time, but they will do everything they can to mitigate it. He and his crew have already begun talking with principals at the schools and have designated rooms the students can move to when work begins on their classroom. The goal is to start the project over the summer.
Faught said there were other projects to keep in mind, such as the roofing projects and the storm shelter at ECTC.
“If it’s a question between the roofing projects and the windows, this is more pressing,” Routley said.
Faught said they had to accept or deny the bid within 30 days and asked to move the meeting up to April 13, leaving two days to spare.