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Sullivan school officials decry loss of $1.6 million in renovation funds

Rick Wagner • Aug 31, 2018 at 11:37 AM

BLOUNTVILLE — A wind and rain storm that went through Bloomingdale a few weeks ago means complete replacement of the old gym roof at Ketron Elementary and likely the cafeteria roof, too, Sullivan County Schools Maintenance and Facilities Supervisor Charlie Hubbard said Thursday evening.

But a political storm over renovation funding for such projects is still brewing.

School system leaders at a work session Thursday said they will be watching such renovation and repair expenditures closely after the County Commission at a called meeting Thursday morning formally cut a more than $1.6 million appropriation for school renovations to nothing. Director of Schools Evelyn Rafalowski told the Board of  Education that was the only change the commission made in the proposed 2018-19 school budget.

Hubbard said he’s putting a planned $300,000 replacement of the vocational roof at Sullivan East High School on hold until the finances are sorted out.

A one-page summary of reserve funds indicates the General Purpose School Fund’s Undesignated Fund Balance will drop to just more than $3.5 million after $4.8 million goes to new high school athletics facilities and almost $2.8 million is removed to balance the 2018-19 budget. School system Business Manager Ingrid DeLoach said the system likely won’t spend all the $2.8 million but by law must keep at least $2.5 million in undesignated fund balance for the general fund. Other reserves among seven categories are earmarked for specific expenditures and cannot be used to shore up the renovation fund, she said.

Rafalowski said the $1.6 million requested for renovation instead was earmarked to help repay the more than $140 million in school construction bonds being used to build West Ridge High School and Sullivan East Middle School, something BOE Chairman Michael Hughes has said the county officials specifically told school officials they would not do and for which he cited a meeting DeLoach had and a newspaper article. The school board is using $4.808 million to fund outdoor athletics facilities, including the football stadium, at West Ridge, which is planned to open in the fall of 2020.

“That will be a challenge for us in the future because we don’t have the dollars coming in,” Rafalowski said. The original school board-approved budget, which will have to be amended by the board, requested $1.625 million for the School Renovation Fund, which is one of seven reserve accounts the system has. Assuming the full $1.625 million is spent, that would leave $768,685 after the more than $1.6 million and $121,614 in already-encumbered funds are deducted.

And that, Hughes said, eventually will leave the board with no choice but to “find cuts” to fund needed repairs and renovations.

Hubbard said that a storm two or three weeks ago removed part of the roof from the old Ketron gym, the basketball gym when the building was Ketron High. Since the gravel-and-tar roof was last replaced in 1980, Hubbard said the whole thing must be replaced, probably with a lighter and modern membrane roofing. However, he said Tennessee law requires that he hire an architect and get engineering work done because the roof covers more than 5,000 square feet and could cost more than $25,000.

In addition, he said the only reasonable way to get roofing supplies to the gym is to use the cafeteria roof, which he said would be damaged and likely would then have to be replaced, too.

Hughes said the system recently spent $1.27 million to replace about three-fourths of the Sullivan East High School roof, and Hubbard said that last year’s reroofing of the elementary portion of Sullivan Gardens K-12 tallied $12,000 in architect’s fees alone.

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