Sat08302014

Last updateWed, 19 Nov 2014 8pm

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Town votes to fund school move, again

It’s not surprising that people who routinely follow news on the Colonial Beach School System are confused, since both Town Council and the School Board also seemed confused as to what has been approved for funding and what hasn’t.

Discussions over the last year have seen some council members waiver a bit after learning new details of the school system’s plight, while others are steadfast in their decision to fund the required elementary school’s move to the high school campus and the repairs to the existing high school building.

History
A few years back, School officials notified the CB School Board of deplorable conditions in some of the older trailers on the elementary school campus. The School was forced to shut down the old two-story brick building on the elementary campus after two named storms and an earthquake hit the town within a one-month span in 2011. After an inspection of the building, it was revealed that not only had the building suffered water damage, but there were structural issues that had been present since the time it was built. Improperly supported roof trusses had been buckling for years, and officials closed the building due to a roof collapse hazard.

In the meantime, the 20-year-old high school building on First Street was badly in need of repairs, having not been properly maintained by previous administrations.

The School has repeatedly come to the Council with solutions and to ask for funding, but it seems each time they come close to an agreement, another disaster strikes, causing the School Board to make alternate plans.

On Jan. 5, fire raged through the old two-story condemned building, leaving the rest of the campus buildings unusable because they were now in the collapse zone of the 100-year-old burned out building. The elementary school students had to be relocated and are currently being housed in the Oak Grove Baptist Church.

Discussions on the situation have wavered and tend to go on endlessly. A look at the resolution passed by the Town Council this year and official actions taken by the School will also show the confusion, resonated within these documents.

On Feb. 12, CB Town Council responded to the School’s request for $448,565 to fund the move of the elementary school to the high school campus by passing resolution 17-14, which tasks the Town Manager to locate and identify funding in that amount. The resolution also states, “BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Colonial Beach Town Council further tasks the Town Manager to work with the Town Attorney to draft a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the Town and the School Board, regarding repayment of the $448,565 from any insurance proceeds that may be forthcoming upon receipt of said insurance funds.”

But then it seems the Council had a change of heart and passed an almost identical resolution 18-14 titled “Approving Loan to School Board”, but it is contingent on the signing of the MOU that would allow the Town to take the loaned money out of the following year’s School budget if the insurance company does not pay within one year.

The Council voted unanimously (with Councilman Gary Seeber absent) to pass this resolution on Feb. 17.
The Council and School Board found themselves back at a joint meeting on April 3. During that meeting, a few discussions took place that did not serve the purpose of the meeting, which Mayor Mike Ham allowed to continue.

Ham stated that the purpose of that meeting was to identify final plans and to learn what the School was going to do about the elementary school.

Ham expressed his desire for the meeting, “With both the entire School Board and Council, hopefully we can come to an understanding before we leave tonight; what you’re looking for and what we have to do to make it happen.”

The key issue that has been discussed over and over, and again at the April 3 meeting, is the Town’s responsibility to “fund” the School’s needs to move the elementary school and to repair the high school on First St., versus “loaning” the School the money.

Town Attorney Andrea Erard stated in the February meeting that she was not comfortable with the Town loaning the School money without some assurances as to how repayment would be made if the insurance company didn’t come through.

Some Town Council members want School property as collateral. The MOU states that the School must agree to have the funds deducted from the educational budget in the next fiscal year should insurance money not come through within a year. The School Board is against that stipulation.

At the March 27 meeting, Council members not only talked about deducting the funds from the next year’s budget, but also discussed taking property from the School at the old elementary school campus.

After some heated debates, Mayor Ham summed up why the Town’s desire to force the School to repay the loan has no fiscal benefit to the town.

Ham said, “Where this whole thing started going bad on us was the initial wording in the MOU saying anything we give you, you’ve got to repay. The Town as a whole, if we elect to continue to have a school system, it’s the Town’s responsibility to fund the School System. The School Board has no money to repay, unless we give it to them to repay. They can’t pay us with federal funds.”

Ham also stated that if the Town raises property taxes to fund the School System and repay the bond, the Town couldn’t ask the School to pay them back, since those taxes would be slated to support the School.
At the April 3 meeting, CB School Board Chairman Tim Trivett updated the Council on the School’s actions towards facilitating the elementary campus’ move.

Trivett reported that the current mod pods at the old elementary school campus are being sent back to the modular company. The School submitted a claim to the insurance company three weeks ago, but has not heard back from VaCorp, who he believes has 30 days to respond.

Requests for proposals (RFPs) will go out next week to determine the exact cost of the move.

Mayor Mike Ham asked Trivett what the School’s long-term goals were for building a permanent school and whether the School plans to keep the elementary students at the high school campus.

Trivett said the School is unable to make long-term plans until hearing from the insurance company. Trivett reminded council members of the meeting in September, during which the School had come back at the Council’s request to give an estimate of how much it would cost to put a permanent school at the high school site. The Town ultimately said they could not undertake funding for that at that time. Council suggested the School move the elementary school to the high school campus, utilizing mod pods for time being. “We all looked at that on a temporary basis,” Trivett added.

Trivett said at that meeting in September, both groups talked about giving up the School properties. The property on the hill where the water tower is located was offered up by the School to the Town. An idea of subdividing the property for individual building lots was also entertained.

During the March 3 joint meeting, Councilwoman Linda Brubaker pressed the School on the issue of keeping the elementary students at the Oak Gove Baptist Church for another year, if the vote that evening did not pass. School Board officials stated that was not an option they would support.

Trivett then referenced resolutions 17-14 and 18-14 passed by the Council and said he was confused on what vote would be taken since the referenced resolutions already reflected the council’s word to fund the project. Trivett said the School had begun returning the mod pods and other actions based on those resolutions.

“The most important task is to get the kids back into a facility,” Trivett said, adding that he was not objecting to putting property up as collateral; his concern was that he does not want to see property sitting in the hands of the Council for five or more years, waiting for the economy to recover.

Councilman Pete Bone said he was more in favor of selling unused School property to fund the building of a permanent school.  He also said he understood Trivett’s concerns, “I sat on the Boardwalk property for five years trying to sell it, and it still hasn’t sold.”

Trivett inquired, “Can we make it simple; the MOU? We will give property up on the hill in return for the money.” Trivett is referring to the property that was offered back in September with the Town’s water tower and the School’s ball field on it.

Councilman Gary Seeber stated, “The purpose of this meeting is to decide how to get the kids to First St.  Some of the stuff in email; the wheels just spin and spin. The Town has to get the bond issue; not the School. We then allocate them that money as it is spent. We can show that as going to the School for the 20 years it lasts.”

Seeber also stated that the School doesn’t need to get into a fight over the old school building. “Move to First Street; give us the land and let us fight it.” Seeber said that otherwise, “The property will be a headache for the rest of your life. “

After being recognized by Mayor Ham and allowed to speak, the question was asked by The Journal if anyone had checked to see if deeding the property to the Town would affect the School’s insurance claim. Seeber asked Trivett if this was an issue, and Trivett replied, “I think there are issues.”

But the subject of the issues was not discussed in detail, due to Councilwoman Linda Brubaker’s objection to the press asking questions during the work session.

Seeber recommended that the School prepare a resolution to transfer the property, “Whatever that piece is up there, do a legal description of it, to the Town of Colonial Beach by September 30. Get that to us by Thursday. We will then put a resolution together on the agenda for Thursday to allow you (pointing to Town staff) to apply for a bond issue for $1.2 million, plus whatever the Town’s needs are.”

Seeber asked for a vote from council members; four members raised their hands. Council members Gary Seeber, Linda Brubaker, Tommy Edwards and Mike Ham all voted in favor of that idea. Council members Jim Chiarello, Wanda Goforth and Pete Bone remained still and silent.

The School Board agreed, and the joint meeting was adjourned.

—Linda Farneth

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