County to help school keep cool

School superintendents can rest easier after county commissioners say they intend to fund multiple construction projects for facilities in desperate need of repair.

On Monday night, the Catawba County Board of Commissioners approved two “letters of intent” for funding for Newton-Conover City Schools and Hickory Public Schools.

The letters of intent assure the school systems they will receive funding for the projects, even before the county’s 2012-13 fiscal year budget is finalized.

“These are issues the school systems need to get going on before we adopt a budget,” said county board Chairwoman Kitty Barnes.

Commissioners approved a letter of intent to fund a $250,000 HVAC-unit replacement project for Newton-Conover City Schools at Shuford Elementary.

NCCS requested the funds to replace six HVAC air-conditioning units at Shuford, which was built in the 1970s and maintains units in poor shape, said NCCS Superintendent Dr. Barry Redmond.

“It’s got to be done,” Redmond said. “We started having more than typical problems last summer and knew we had to get something going by this school year.”

The funding item will be recommended in the county’s 2012-13 fiscal year budget, and commissioners agreed Monday that they intend to give the project full funding.

The replacements need to be made during the summer, when school is not in session. Redmond said the commissioners’ letter of intent allows the project to get rolling.

NCCS ranked the HVAC replacement project as its top county-funded priority.

“Usually they turn the money loose on July 1 for the most needy projects, and usually, we don’t get it until July 1,” Redmond said.

“(The letter) says it is our intent to provide you this funding. It allows us legally to go ahead and order equipment now so we don’t wait until July 1. This just allows us to go ahead and order materials and establish contracts with construction people. When school shuts down, we got stuff on the ground.”

NCCS hopes to have the project completed by the end of the summer.
“It’s an important issue because we have a shorter summer calendar,” Redmond said.

Commissioners also gave their intent to fund repairs to a large sink hole at Hickory High School.

HPS requested to move $42,926 from a fund to replace wheelchair ramps at mobile units to provide emergency repairs to a sinkhole that developed at the high school earlier this year.

The sink hole, located adjacent to the Hickory High School baseball field, was caused by a corroded pipe that runs underneath the field, said Jennifer Mace, Catawba County’s budget manager.

Emergency repairs to the sink hole will cost an estimated $25,000, while a long-term solution will cost up to $100,000, Mace said.

The current year budget included funds to replace wheelchair ramps at mobile units that are no longer needed because the school system received a private donation to replace the ramps.

HPS expects the work to be completed by the end of this year, Mace said.

“I appreciate these letters of intent, and I think it will help our school systems with their budgets,” said Catawba County Commissioner Randy Isenhower. “I appreciate this being brought to us.”

In other business, commissioners:

• approved a request to rezone about 3.7 acres of land at 3464 Bethany Church Road in the Catawba Small Area Planning District, from RC Rural Commercial to R-20 Residential. Landowner David Hamby said he plans to build a home on the property, said Catawba County Planner Chris Timberlake.

• approved a request for staff to use a $10,000 award from a Government Innovation Grant Award (GIGA) to buy technology to enhance the county’s online presence.

• presented Certificates of Commendation to St. Stephens High School swimmer Sava Turcanu and Newton-Conover High School wrestler Franklin Wepner for their achievements in NCHSAA athletics.