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School board works to fix middle schools

By NEESEY PAYNE

neesey@southwesttimes.com

OWPR Architects and Engineers have offered a solution to the bowed walls at Pulaski and Dublin middle schools – using columns and beams to permanently fix the problem. Although the suggestion offers an immediate solution, is that the best way to go? Pulaski County School Board Vice Chairman Jeff Bain isn’t so sure.

Once being notified of the problem by OWPR, the school system took immediate action Tuesday morning – closing the gymnasium and auditorium at Pulaski Middle School, the gymnasium at Dublin Middle School and all areas immediately underneath at both schools.

Dr. Thomas Brewster, superintendent of schools, commended faculty and staff at both schools during a recent school board meeting, for making tough decisions within a short period of time. He said around midday Tuesday, principals called parents to notify them of the conditions of the building and the restructuring of classes.

The dilemma comes at an inopportune time, as the school system is working to figure out whether to invest in renovating, rebuilding or consolidating the schools. This unexpected circumstance has tasked the board with making some tough and quick decisions.

According to Ronnie Nichols, director of operations, if the board went with OWPR’s option, the architectural firm would be able to put together a design in about a week. Nichols said the school system would have to advertise for bids for 10 days and come back to the board with the cost of making the repairs. Nichols said he believed OWPR’s offer is “probably the quickest and most immediate that can be done.”

School board Chairman Mike Barbour said if OWPR’s suggestion is the “most cost effective and quickest,” he assumed the other option would be to rebuild the walls.

Nichols said that option would be “much more expensive.”

“Masons can lay walls very quickly, but when you have to tear a wall down brick by brick and block by block, just the demolition work would be very time consuming. I’m not sure that we could get that done in a reasonable amount of time,” he said.

Although an option has been put on the table, Bain suggested the school system look at taking a different approach. Because Dublin Middle School would be the least expensive to fix, Bain suggested the board look into repairing the  gymnasium wall at Dublin Middle School and moving mobile classrooms on the Dublin campus to accommodate both schools.

“I don’t think we have enough information now to make a decent decision, but I would like to see an option,” Bain said. “Im trying to figure out what’s best for this school system and the county, because the county has got to help us. This is not in our budget.”

Brewster said his concern with that option would be moving in the middle of the school year core academic classes at Pulaski Middle School where students are “comfortable.”

Board member Linda Hill said her concern is space. “I don’t know where you would put your academic classes without moving in 30 trailers,” she said.

Stacey Heller, director of curriculum, noted Dublin Middle School has approximately 100-150 more students than Pulaski Middle School.

Barbour asked if the mobile classroom option was pursued, “How would you decide who goes in the mobile units?”

“I just don’t see how that happens,” he said. “I’m very much interested in getting the design work from OWPR and soliciting bids and see what they come back as. I think that’s the immediate step that we should take at this time.”

Barbour said his concern was that if the school board didn’t give the OK on the design work with OWPR and go to bid, the option of having the schools fixed before the beginning of the next school year could be lost.

“We could miss that window,” said Nichols. “This is a fast track I think. OWPR is willing to have their structural people drop everything they are working on and concentrate on this project solely for a week. We can pursue (this) and go to bid, and still go with other options.”

Bain said he saw the validity in both points he and Barbour were making, but still believed “decisions like this need to have a range of options to select rather than being forced into the corner with only one option.”

Barbour said if the board opted not to repair Pulaski Middle School, the mobile units would be used “for a minimum of several years.” He said in terms of pricing, not only would the number of mobile classrooms need to be calculated, but the cost of setting them in place and utilities to them, as well. He said the board would also need to explore leasing options.

According to Nichols, the average cost of a standard size mobile classroom is about $20,000.

Massie District Supervisor Andy McCready, who was in attendance at the meeting, suggested the “emergency reactivation of Newbern Elementary School.”

The board voted to proceed with OWPR preparing the design work as well as staff researching all costs associated with acquiring a sufficient number of mobile classrooms.

Although both schools are facing a great inconvenience, Barbour believes students, faculty and administrators will “rise to the task.”

“It’s the intention of the board to move forward as quickly as we possibly can to correct the walls and make sure those areas are safe so they can be utilized as soon as possible,” he said.