Lightning strikes hit school district’s budget

Eric Cravey
Posted 8/30/17

GREEN COVE SPRINGS – Lightning strikes at a number of Clay County schools have caused hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage in recent weeks during a time the school district’s budget is …

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Lightning strikes hit school district’s budget

Posted

GREEN COVE SPRINGS – Lightning strikes at a number of Clay County schools have caused hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage in recent weeks during a time the school district’s budget is experiencing shrinking state capital improvement funds.

“We’ve been on average receiving $1.29 million a year in PECO, [Public Education Capital Outlay]. This year, it was cut to $868,000, so let’s take that and divide that by 50. What is that –$15,000 a school for the year barring no major failure of a mechanical system [or other issues]. It’s just not logical,” said Michael Kemp, assistant superintendent for operations.

A lightning strike at Keystone Heights Junior-Senior High School’s baseball field damaged the electrical panel inside the dugout.

“We’ve had Montclair… a $15,000 compressor blew up. We put another one in and we’ve had problems with the line with metal parts in it, so we called timeout. We put portable [A/C] units in the classrooms, so we’re problem-solving this as much as we can,” said Superintendent Addison Davis.

A lightning strike at Doctors Inlet Elementary school “fried” a new $159,000 fire alarm system that was in the middle of being installed.

“It wasn’t finally completed, so it was still under contract,” said Bryce Ellis, project manager for the operations department.

Because the fire alarm installer was still under contract, the damaged system will be covered under the contractor’s insurance policy and will be re-installed in full at no cost to the school district. That news was met with cheers and elation at the Aug. 29 monthly school board agenda-setting workshop.

Another lightning strike took out the power to a wing at Ridgeview High, which forced school district staff to act quickly for a solution. Davis said a portable generator is the fix for now.

“Where’s there’s air conditioner problems, we’re trying to bring in spot unit coolers, temporarily to get them fixed,” Kemp said.

At Lake Asbury Elementary, a portable generator was brought in to provide power to eight portable classrooms.

Kemp said one of the two 80-ton chillers – a key part of the air conditioning system – just “died” at Orange Park High.

“With every storm that rolls in, there’s another one. I just want everybody to understand – in triple-digit heat, it’s just this constant fight,” Kemp said.

Aging building and shrinking budgets become a recipe for failure. Davis said some buildings in the school district that are 30-plus years old are showing their age and are costly to operate due to their aging infrastructure.

“If we had 45 to $50 million, we could replace everything. The majority of these units are 20-plus, 30-plus years old we’re just trying to put a band aid on them. So, we had Ridgeview last week, up-down, up-down, up-down and then, enough. Dr. Kemp, great problem-solver, brought in a portable unit to get it up and running,” Davis said.

Davis said the administration building’s air conditioning was out last week, but “kids are first,” so he delayed crews from working on the admin building while classrooms were prioritized.

“We’ve had Montclair…$15,000 compressor blew up. “We put another one in and we’ve had problems with the line with metal parts in it, so we called timeout. We put portable [A/C] units in the classrooms, so we’re problem-solving this as much as we can,” Davis said.

Kemp indicated the district needs a new revenue stream dedicated for facility upkeep and the patch, fix and repair for now model just isn’t working anymore.

“We do have our LCIF dollars, our Local Capital Improvement Fund dollars, that we have, but you, that has to be used for certain things. We made a decision not to raise the millage rate, we did not increase impact fees, so we really need to start looking at a revenue stream because, like I said in the meeting today, our newest schools are 12-to-14 years old. It’s time to replace all the major mechanical systems. We have not been in a position to replace mechanical systems along the way so therefore, it’s to be expected,” Kemp said.

No action was taken at the workshop to address the air conditioning systems and needed reapirs. However, some of the issues will be on the agenda for action at the board’s Sept. 7 meeting.

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