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Gates officials study new middle school

GATESVILLE – A plan has been put on the table for a feasibility study to build a new middle school in Gates County.

And it appears the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction (DPI) agrees with Gates County Public School officials that the current Central Middle School is way past its prime. DPI engineers who have visited Central Middle, especially taking note what is now the 8th grade building (built in 1957), have unofficially recommended the school needs to be replaced.

“The DPI engineers have been very helpful in accessing the building and have stated it take would take approximately $1.5 million more to renovate than to build new,” stated Joe Harrell, Director of Maintenance for Gates County Schools at a recent meeting between the county’s Board of Education and Board of Commissioners.

Harrell added that just to replace the problematic roof on the 8th grade building and one-half of the roof on the 7th grade building (constructed in 1965) would cost $750,000.

However, the problems at the school are not only confined to a leaky roof. Harrell noted mold and mildew in the buildings; non-ADA compliant (handicap-accessible) bathrooms in the main building, and there is no heating system in the athletic changing rooms.

The 1957 and 1965 buildings also lack insulation or reinforced steel that provides lateral support in a wind-related event. Even to meet the minimum energy codes, all windows in those two buildings will need to be replaced.

Meanwhile, all of the school’s potable water lines below the slab have been abandoned due to leaks and pipe degradation; and all the sewer lines are dated to the time of original construction with no upgrades.

The two oldest buildings on campus are heated by a single steam boiler that runs off diesel oil. The original piping has failed below the slab and a retrofit system has been in place for nearly 20 years that consists of uninsulated, black steel pipe directly buried in the soil outside the perimeter of the building.

Harrell noted in one particular classroom, water leaks over a period of time have left a bad odor…so much to the point that the students reference it as an “onion smell” and that the teacher in that particular room has documented via email on several occasions about experiencing headaches. He said the same teacher has witnessed what appears to be mold forming on the classroom windows, and loose floor tiles, especially in the areas where water has occasionally leaked through the ceiling.

“We could face legal action from staff and students if these problems are not corrected,” Harrell stated in his report to both boards.

Dr. John Watson, representing the WSRR Consulting Group at the joint meeting, summed it up by saying, “(Central Middle) school has served us well, but it is worn out.”

According to the estimates, it would cost $18 million to build a new middle school, or $19.6 million to renovate.

One plan centers on keeping the 6th grade building (built in 1997) and constructing a 70,000 square foot building. Adding in the site prep work, sports fields, furniture/equipment/technology, and fees related to permitting, architectural and engineering, that cost was projected at $14.2 million.

Those numbers are now in the hands of Gates County local government officials. They note that the current loan for the last big renovation project at the high school will not be paid until 2022. To fund a 14-plus-million-dollar project would need a big infusion of taxpayer money, which would prompt a tax hike as much as 20 cents.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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