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Moore County Schools is starting to make headway on its extensive list of overdue building maintenance projects thanks to COVID-19 relief funding.

Those federal payouts will generally be limited to projects that deal with either improving air quality and sanitation or supporting outdoor activities. But in an indirect way they’ll allow the district to move toward a more ambitious goal: renovating and modernizing six elementary school gymnasiums around the county.

The school board’s spending plan for its Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funds designates over $11 million to capital projects, including $5 million worth of a short-term capital priority list the school board approved back in February,

At the time the board planned to pay for those projects with funds coming in over the next year from the district’s normal capital revenue streams — the county commissioners and state lottery — as well as the proceeds from sales of the four old schools in Southern Pines and Aberdeen.

Parts of that plan, like new tracks at Pinecrest and North Moore and a new heating pump and ductwork at Robbins Elementary, will now be paid for with COVID-19 relief funds.

That leaves the district with $5 million to spend on other building projects. On Monday, the Moore County Board of Education roundly endorsed a plan to put that money toward renovating the gyms at Carthage, Cameron, Highfalls, Sandhills Farm Life, Westmoore and Vass-Lakeview at a total cost of $12.7 million.

The school board has another $8.5 million at its disposal in the form of premiums from the sale of the bonds that built the new Aberdeen, Southern Pines and Pinehurst elementary schools. Moore County now holds those funds, but they’re tied to school building projects.

Those six gyms, holdovers from when the schools served as high schools, aren’t air-conditioned. Nor are they fit to be in their current condition. All six are scheduled for renovation in the next eight years.

But the school board is moving toward making that happen far sooner. Moore County Schools’ typical flow of capital funds comes in around $1.6 million per year, which is less than the estimated cost for even one of the gym projects.

“I think that we have an opportunity with our remaining dollars, plus our dollars from the bond premium to take care of all those gyms at one time,” said board member Pam Thompson. “If we move forward with something else I don’t know that we’ll ever have an opportunity to circle back and try to add air conditioning and all of the modernizations at the same time.”

Administrators did present other options, but both exceed the funds the district will have available in the next year or two.

A separate $19 million list of capital needs includes a $6.2 million classroom renovation at Carthage Elementary plus new HVAC systems at Pinecrest and North Moore and renovations at the Community Learning Center at Pinckney.

The third option presented involved putting the $13.5 million toward replacing Carthage Elementary with a new 650-student elementary school. A project of that scale would take years of planning and at least twice as much money.

While other building issues might arise in the next few years, administrators presented the Carthage Elementary gym in particular as an immediate priority based on what Superintendent Bob Grimesey called “serious engineering issues” affecting the building’s south wall.

“I would have to elevate the Carthage Elementary School gymnasium, based on the criteria that we’re discussing today,” said Grimesey. “The political problem with that is we’re also talking about replacing the school.”

The six gyms scheduled for renovation are also inefficient to heat, leading to dramatic temperature fluctuations even in the winter. Grimesey said that he’s less concerned about putting off projects on the alternate plan for a few years.

“In terms of parts, maintenance, the HVAC systems, they’re manageable,” he said. “What you have are these six spaces that don’t even have what you see on Concept Two. You have six large spaces that are used by every child in that school, that come and go every day and it is horrendous.”

The estimated cost of the six gym projects could be covered within what the schools now have available from school sales, capital funds and bond premiums with about $850,000 left over. The school board will consider a final approval of that plan in August.

“I have been in Vass-Lakeview with my child for many years playing basketball on a hot, hot winter day,” said board member Stacey Caldwell. “So I am all about fixing those gyms and putting AC in them.”

Contact Mary Kate Murphy at (910) 93-2479 or mkmurphy@thepilot.com.

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