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New school is needed

GATESVILLE – As members of the Gates County Board of Commissioners ponder their next steps in what to do to correct growing problems at Central Middle School, a handful of county citizens implored their elected leaders to take whatever action was necessary.

At the Jan. 4 meeting of the board, several citizens spoke about what they deemed as deplorable conditions at the aging middle school.

“I’m glad that ya’ll are considering the new school,” remarked Milton Carter of Hobbsville, speaking during the public comments portion of the meeting.

“It’s very important for our children and for the future of our community. It will help with the safety of the kids in the school,” Carter added. “Ya’ll are aware of the problems at the school. They could lead to health problems later on, 10 to 15 years from now. This is something that needs to be addressed now.”

Janie Smith, also of Hobbsville, expressed her concerns over the health and safety of the students and staff at Central Middle School.

“I’m very thankful that you have called for a special meeting on this,” Smith said. “You need to take into consideration all the problems at the school, the falling ceiling tiles and the mold. How will this affect the health and safety of the students?

“There’s water everywhere inside that school,” Smith continued. “That’s not safe for the students. They have to walk around it to get to their classrooms. As parents, we don’t need to have to worry (about their children’s health and safety). There over 375 students there now exposed to all this mold.”

Another local citizen, who did not give her name, talked about possible liability issues.

“Now that parents are aware and should a health issue arise (with their child as a student at Central Middle School), who’s to say they’re not going to sue the school system and the county over possible health issues,” she said. “It’s a health and safety concern. We want our babies to be safe.”

Gates County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Barry Williams addressed those liability concerns while speaking with this newspaper following the meeting. He said based on the medical liability carried on the school system’s insurance policy, if one single class of students fell ill over health issues at the school, it came to $2.1 million (per class). He added that did not include the possibility of civil litigation against the county.

Earlier in the Jan. 4 meeting, Williams presented the commissioners with six options on replacing/renovating Central Middle School, which opened in 1957. Cost estimates range as high as $15.3 million (complete renovation of two entire buildings on campus) to as low as $5.5 million for extensive work on the roof systems on two buildings.

These options come after Gates County voters defeated a referendum on the November, 2016 ballot that called for a 12-cent hike in property taxes to pay for building an entirely new Central Middle School at a cost of $16 million.

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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