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Shenandoah County: School board presents priorities

Replacement of two boilers, roofs top list

By Kim Walter

EDINBURG - Replacement of two school boilers and two roofs are among the top capital improvement priorities for Shenandoah County schools, Superintendent B. Keith Rowland told the School Board and Board of Supervisors during a joint meeting on Monday.

"In all honesty, these needs are paramount," he said. "There's a mindset that as long it's working, you can let it go. But these are things that you can't necessarily wait until they break."

The school division recently changed the format for its capital improvements plan, which features detailed reports for each item and pictures.

Rowland started off by explaining that two boilers needed replacing. The typical life expectancy of a boiler is 25 years, he said, but both of the mentioned devices are over 40 years old.

"If one of these breaks down, there's no heat for that school," he said. While a temporary mobile boiler could be installed within five days of one breaking, the cost for that would be $20,000 for the first month, and $10,000 a month after that. Rowland said that it would probably take about three months to receive a new, permanent boiler, which can cost anywhere from $135,000 to $150,000.

"So if you have the price of a new boiler, and then add the price of a rental on top of that ... it just doesn't make a lot of good sense," he said. "We're concerned. They're working today, but they could stop tomorrow. And if a school has to shut down for a week because there's no heat all the sudden this winter, that puts the students at a disadvantage."

The second item of concern were the roofs at Peter Muhlenburg Middle School and Signal Knob Middle School. Their life expectancy is about 12 to 15 years, but both roofs are over 25 years old. Rowland said that just in the last year, 455 repairs were done between the two roofs, costing $100 to $200 per repair.

"Are we really spending our money wisely by doing 455 repairs on just two roofs?" he asked the board.

Board member Kathryn G. Holsinger noted that the leaks could lead to "wet spots and mold growth inside the school, and that can cause a safety hazard."

Rowland said that two rooftop air conditioning units aren't working well either. Additionally, a new fire alarm system had been in the future plan for North Fork Middle School, but when it unexpectedly shut down, it had to be replaced to bring it up to code.

"We had to take money out of our operational budget to fix that ... we didn't have a choice," he said. "Taking money from other places is not a good practice to get into. We're struggling to keep things going as it is."

Board of Supervisors member David E. Ferguson asked Rowland what kind of funds had been available for the school system's capital improvement plan over the past three years.

"We haven't had one," Rowland answered. It has been five years since the county's schools had money for an actual capital improvements plan, he added.

"These are big, urgent items," he said. "If we can get any support for that, it would be helpful."

County Administrator Douglas C. Walker said there are plans to create a capital reserve fund which would intentionally set aside money for things suddenly breaking, but as the county has not yet received its budget audit, nothing was final.

Walker also brought up the idea of a condensed capital improvement plan which would include all county facilities -- from both the government and school sides. Years ago, both documents were combined and projects from both entities were ranked together.

"It would make it more transparent for both groups," he said. "It's all about a scoring system that creates that relative priority."

The next Board of Supervisors meeting will be held at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the board room of the county government center in Woodstock.

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