School repair needs prioritized

Macon County Board of Education photo by Vickie Carpenter

Diane Peltz – Contributing Writer

The school board held a special called meeting on Friday morning to discuss needed repairs at the area schools. The discussion was held in order to give the Macon County Board of Commissioners a requested prioritization list. The commissioners were to review the list at their meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 10.

One of the first items discussed was the sewer plant at Nantahala School.  Maintenance Director Tracy Tallent explained that the plant has been on the radar for many years.  The plant has been maintained to avoid leaking by extensive work involving draining it, cleaning it, patching the walls and it is now barely holding together.  The cost many years ago was about $150,000 but now the estimate is closer to $360,000.  Personnel Director Todd Gibbs said that the original engineer for the project took more than one year and had no progress to show.  He says they are now trying to locate a different engineer to spearhead the project.  

“We are nearing failure, the longer we wait the more expensive it becomes,” noted Macon County School Superintendent Dr. Chris Baldwin.

Tallent also pointed out that if this plant fails they will not be able to keep the school open. The money to repair the sewer plant will most likely come from the Repair and Renovation Fund.  The School Board placed the sewer plant at the top of the priority list as an urgent need.

Repairs to Franklin High School (FHS) was next on the list.  The issues that need immediate attention were the track and football field. Many of the issues have been put off due to the ongoing discussion about building a new facility.  In 2015, the track was resurfaced and the contractors that completed the work would not offer a warranty and the resurfacing failed. The track has reached the end of its life and no viable track is currently available in Macon County, as the Macon Middle School (MMS) track is also in need of repair. Capping it could save money but the board thought it unlikely that competition track teams would participate in an event held on a capped track. In order to completely repair the high school track, it must be torn up from the asphalt, rubber and top. 

Two phases are being considered for the high school. Phase one is to repair the safety issues and phase two is to look at building a new facility.  Phase one is an integral part of allowing phase two to come to fruition.  Phase one includes readying the grounds to house a new facility. Without getting those needed repairs done, which includes the track, football field, parking lot, moving the agriculture building and bringing in tons of filler dirt, phase two cannot take place. 

Another prioritization that was discussed was that of building more classrooms at Cartoogechaye Elementary School and Highlands School, due to the recent class size amendment that was passed. South Macon Elementary’s renovations were done a few years ago and now these two schools face the same need. Cartoogechaye principal Kristen  Lynch has had to convert the lab into a classrooms, and has had to use the Media center to hold STEM classes and Exceptional Children classes. English Language Learners are sharing their classroom with the school psychologist, on a rotating basis. One Pre-K classroom might have to be moved to another school to make room for a different class. Cartoogechaye functions with many shared spaces and if growth continues next year Lynch says she may need to put art and music on a cart.

Highlands School is looking at adding another Pre-K classroom. Right now only two daycare facilities are operating in Highlands and those facilities have a long waiting list.  Highlands School is having the same issues as Cartoogechaye Elementary, and right now there is no space for the psychologist, mental health specialist and nurse, and are constantly shuffling staff.

Other projects that made the priority list to be given to the commissioners include the MMS Track, and Highlands School renovation and additions. The Highlands School Track is also in need of repair.