ROGERSVILLE — The Hawkins County Commission rejected a budget amendment Monday that would have covered the $437,000 cost of an elevator installation at Cherokee High School, but it didn't have the power to stop the elevator project.
In fact, work has already begun on an elevator that will provide wheelchair access from the Cherokee gymnasium upper deck to the gymnasium floor.
What the commission accomplished by voting down the amendment by a vote of 8-9 was to make it more likely that Director of Schools Steve Starnes will return in the spring seeking a budget amendment to cover the cost of three roof replacements and a new set of bleachers.
Beginning in February and over the course of multiple Hawkins County Board of Education budget workshops and building and grounds workshops last spring, the BOE began talking about which capital outlay projects to fund in the 2017-18 budget.
The board ultimately decided to allocate $1 million in the 2017-18 budget to pay for two roof projects, one new set of bleachers and the elevator at Cherokee.
Last month, the BOE received a low bid of $437,000 for the elevator, which was about $80,000 over estimate. The BOE also determined it would have to add an extra roof project in 2017-18.
Those roof projects will be advertised for bids in the spring, so exact figures aren’t available, but the original $1 million budget allocation isn’t expected to be enough to cover everything..
As a remedy to that problem, the school board voted earlier this month to request a budget amendment transferring $437,000 from savings to pay for the elevator.
That would leave the original $1 million capital outlay allocation to deal with the three roof projects and bleachers. When those jobs are completed, any unspent funds would be rolled back into the unassigned fund balance.
Anyone who has followed the elevator issue on social media could have guessed what was going to happen when the proposed $437,000 budget amendment came before the full county commission Monday evening.
Starnes was grilled for nearly an hour by commissioners, who expressed opposition to the amendment for a variety of reasons. Among the most vocal was Fred Castle of Church Hill.
Castle said he felt the priority should be roofs firsts, and then the elevator.
"Don't you fix a roof before you cut a hole for another door?" Castle asked Starnes.
Castle also expressed concern about overspending on the part of the school system and the fact that the construction contract was signed before the budget amendment was approved by the commission. Castle also said he felt the commission should have been informed of the elevator before work began.
"The school has been there 37 years," Castle noted. "Why do we need an elevator now instead of patching a roof?"
Starnes said the elevator is long overdue to bring the school into ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliance. Only the upper deck of the gym is accessible from the gym lobby and main floor of the school. To reach the gym floor, you either have to go down 13.5 feet of steps, or for a wheelchair-bound student, go outside and around the parking lot to access the gym floor.
Volunteer High School senior Evan Mays was given an opportunity to address the commission. He stated that Volunteer has issues that need to be addressed as well, such as leaks in the roof, mold, and substandard bathroom fixtures.
Mays said he believes basic necessities in school buildings should be addressed before the county spends nearly a half million dollars on an elevator.
Budget Committee member Bob Palmer asked Starnes what would happen if the budget amendment wasn't approved by the commission.
Starnes said the elevator project will continue because the construction contract has been signed.
Starnes added, "It will proceed, and then we'll look at our roofs where (their construction bids) come in, we'll be back in the spring if this isn't approved, to amend the budget to finish the roofs — or do the roofs we can do with whatever money we have left (from the original $1 million budget allocation)."
Commissioners who voted against the amendment included Castle, B.D. Cradic, Jeff Barrett, Danny Alvis, Greg Fletcher, Dawson Fields, Michael Herrell, Mark Linkous, and Rick Brewer.
Those in favor were Dwight Carter, Eugene Christian, Stacy Vaughan, Joe McLain, Glenda Davis, Nancy Barer, Darrell Gilliam and Charlie Newton, while Palmer and Syble Vaughan Trent abstained.