ROGERSVILLE — Keplar area residents packed the Hawkins County school board meeting room Tuesday evening to demonstrate opposition to the possibility that their small rural school might be closed rather than renovated.
Last month, structural engineer Steve Wilson presented the Board of Education a report stating that while Keplar Elementary is safe, it is need of about $1.28 million in repairs.
On Tuesday, the Hawkins County Commission was invited to hear that same report in a joint meeting with the BOE.
Why do an engineering study on Keplar now?
The question county leaders will eventually have to answer is if they want to pay for repairs on a school that serves 108 students and has sections that are 60 and 70 years old.
The other option would be to close the school and bus those students to county schools about eight miles away in Rogersville.
Keplar’s roof replacement had been scheduled for 2018-19 as part of the BOE’s five year capital outlay plan at an estimated cost of $215,000. As a result of Wilson’s engineering report, however, the roof replacement cost estimate has more than doubled.
Director of Schools Steve Starnes told commissioners that the purpose of the engineering study was to determine what, if any, structural problems exist before the board commences with the 2018-19 roof project.
Starnes said the study gives the BOE and commission the information they need to make an educated decision on the future of Keplar Elementary.
The community remains opposed to closing Keplar
Although the standing-room-only audience wasn’t allowed to comment during Tuesday’s meeting, their sentiment was evident as some children held pro-Keplar signs, adults wore Keplar T-shirts and the room burst into applause anytime an elected official made a pro-Keplar comment.
Keplar resident Patti Crawford was vehemently opposed to closing Keplar the last time the subject was discussed by the BOE in 2015-16.
Crawford told the Times News Tuesday that students are “devastated” that the possibility of closing their school has arisen again. She described the engineering report as “malarkey” intended to sway commissioners toward supporting school closure.
“There is a cheaper way to do things than what they’re saying,” Crawford said. “I think that (engineering report) was to show the commissioners that it needs to be closed, but there’s a whole lot of commissioners who saw right through that.”
What does the engineering report say?
The needed repairs and estimated cost as outlined by Wilson include (in order of highest priority):
1. Repair/replace original building roof framing for $455,000. Wilson said this work will be needed within two to five years.
2. Repair/replace original building floor framing, which is unlevel in places, for $280,000.
3. Repair/replace south end gym and cafeteria roof framing for $100,000.
4. Re-roof the north end addition for $180,000.
5. Repair/repoint brick masonry cracking areas throughout for $15,000.
6. Replace septic plant for $250,000.
The detailed engineering report can be seen in the online version of this article at www.timesnews.net in the photo scroll.
Commissioner Rick Brewer suggested that a less expensive alternative to Wilson’s roof proposal might be installing a metal roof on a gable frame, as opposed to replacing the flat roof.
“You could put the roof on like that and never have to take the old roof off and damage anything, in my opinion,” Brewer said.
Brewer said he believes the unlevel floor might be a cosmetic issue, but he doesn’t believe it’s a safety issue.
Commissioner Mark Linkous told the Times News after the meeting he believes the county could complete the engineer’s recommended repairs in phases over time, starting with the roof, and keep the school open.
“As long as the school is safe, I think they ought to leave it open,” Linkous said.
Commissioner Stacy Vaughan, who chairs the Budget Committee, noted that if commissioners side in favor of repairing the school, they have to be willing to approve the funding for the BOE.
What’s the next step?
BOE Vice-Chair Debbie Shedden said a walk-through meeting has been scheduled at Keplar for the BOE, commission and public on Thursday, April 19 at 5:30 p.m.
Shedden said a public hearing will be scheduled later for the community to state its opinion on repairing the school versus closing the school.