Forcella: Aging schools challenge CHCCS

October 4, 2013 

Tom Forcella


At the Sept. 19 meeting of our Board of Education, and with the help of Moseley Architects, we presented the results of a study on the condition of our 10 oldest buildings along with three potential options for either renovating or replacing each.

The 10 buildings are Lincoln Center (1950), Glenwood Elementary (1952), Carrboro Elementary (1957), Estes Hills Elementary (1958), Phillips Middle (1962) Frank Porter Graham Elementary (1963), Chapel Hill High (1966), Culbreth Middle (1969), Seawell Elementary (1969) and Ephesus Elementary (1972).

Some may be surprised to learn that we have quite a few old school buildings. In fact, six are more than 50 years old. Most need significant repairs. Many need complete HVAC and lighting replacements. Many will require Americans with Disabilities Act and life safety code upgrades.

It is important to note that these 10 facilities represent 920,200 square feet, about half of our district total, and house approximately 6,000 students. It is also worth noting that 40 of our district’s 54 mobile units are housed at these 10 facilities.

Our community is going to have to make some difficult decisions – and sooner rather than later. For each campus, we’ll need to choose from one of three options. The least expensive choice is to simply create and carry out a punch list of repairs. While ensuring the building can continue being utilized, this option would not add any student capacity.

The next option is to repair and renovate existing buildings, but also to add student capacity. If we choose this scenario, we would expect to reduce or eliminate the need for mobile units.

In considering the additional capacity, we estimate the increase to be 732 students – or roughly the equivalent of one school. In considering this option, we must factor the cost savings of a “would-be” additional school.

The final, and most expensive, option includes the deconstruction of existing building spaces that require excessive renovation and have exceeded their useable life. Larger additions are included in this option to not only replace segments of some buildings, but to also increase student capacity.

Keep in mind, increasing student capacity, while it comes at a cost, can save or defer costs later.

In the end, our goal is to offer a plan that will create learning environments for all students that are safe, healthy and promote learning.

So, what’s the cost?

If we choose the least expensive option for each facility – the option that merely repairs the building, but does not add capacity – the total cost for all 10 facilities is estimated at $52 million.

If we choose the middle option – the option that makes repairs and renovations and adds capacity – the total cost is $112 million.

If we choose the option that includes some deconstruction and replacement, along with capacity increases, the total cost is $171 million.

We recognize there is no “one size fits all.” We will need to examine each building to determine the best course of action for it.

I can assure you that the School Board will be carefully reviewing all options in an effort to present a plan that will address the facility issues while keeping in mind the financial impact on the citizens of Orange County.

This community has a national reputation for its commitment to our public schools. Because of that support, we have enjoyed generations of success. I trust our community will support this next phase as it has those in the past … and many more generations will carry forward the tradition of success that defines Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools.

Tom Forcella is the superintendent of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools.

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