November 9, 2013 9:00:21 PM
Renovations needed to bring Oktibbeha County School Districts' two elementary schools up to par for 2015's state-mandated consolidation could cost the county about $5 million, an architect confirmed Friday, but how to finance those repairs remains an unanswered question.
A representative of Shafer and Associates, a local Starkville architectural firm, told Commission on Starkville Consolidated School District Structure members that East Oktibbeha County Elementary School and West Oktibbeha County Elementary School require about $2 million in immediate improvements before the county system merges with Starkville School District. An additional $2.8 million worth of renovations, he said, could be tended to in a long-term rehabilitation project.
Immediate improvement needs include repairs to EOCES's gymnasium roof, restroom renovations and drainage fixes, while WOCES requires more minor projects for its doors and to address Americans with Disabilities Act compliance issues. Long-term fixes for both campuses include parking lot pavement, HVAC replacement and boosts to IT capabilities.
Earlier this year, the Oktibbeha County Board of Supervisors hinted at financing the parking lot renovations when it authorized Road Manager Victor Collins to produce a cost estimate for the project. Merger committee member and board of supervisors President Orlando Trainer said the county is still interested in helping with the project and alleviating some of the cost associated with the merger.
Financing these and other consolidation projects has been a sticking point over numerous meetings for commissioners. The unified district cannot share countywide finances until the merger occurs in 2015. Until then, each district is faced with issues that limit their bonding capabilities. Facing consolidation, SSD school board members authorized a bond earlier this year to improve its facilities, a move that puts the district near its maximum bonding capacity. The county school district has bonding capacity, but former school boards and the county electorate have shown no appetite to authorize improvement notes.
The district's short-term plan to combine the two school systems involves reconfiguring Overstreet School for Starkville's sixth graders, moving county students to Starkville High School and preserving OCSD's two elementary schools. Besides costs to level curriculum requirements and the renovations to the two county elementary schools, Overstreet's realignment is estimated to cost about $200,000, while SHS could also require a significant cafeteria overhaul.
A long-term plan calls for the construction of a grades 8-9 school -- ninth grade would be pulled from SHS, thereby creating future capacity -- for about $14 million.
Merger committee members have suggested the county pursue a 3-mill school bond to raise money for improvements and future construction, but such a maneuver has not been authorized.
"The county doesn't have any outstanding bonds, but we really need to get some understanding of what we can do," Trainer said. "The conservator's position is a temporary position. We don't want a temporary fix to have any detriment on a long-term need."
The committee will meet 5 p.m. Nov. 21 at the county education building on Main Street. There, they are expected to discuss financing options for merger issues.
Carl Smith covers Starkville and Oktibbeha County for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter @StarkDispatch
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