The members of the Whitfield County Board of Education approved several construction contracts and purchases Monday and heard about how the school system has maintained emergency readiness during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Roof and heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) work at Southeast Whitfield High School will commence this summer basically "as soon as the kids are out of the parking lot" on the last day of school, then conclude next summer, and "I'm very excited about doing this" project, said Mike Ewton, assistant superintendent for operations and student services. Cartersville's Womack, Lewis & Smith was the low bidder, at a total of roughly $9.3 million, and the project will be done in three phases, the first this summer, the second during the 2021-22 academic year, and the final piece during the summer of 2022.
Some work can be accomplished while students are in school, but the rest will be left to the summers, even though that extends the total project time, because it's the preferred alternative rather than disrupting student learning by employing mobile/portable classrooms, which would be necessary if certain portions of the roof were worked on during the academic year, Ewton said.
"It's not efficient to do the mobiles unless you really have to."
School board members approved a purchase order of $1.011 million for Thomas Built Buses, from Peach State Freightline LLC. That will buy 10 school buses, and "we're really excited to be able to purchase that many in one year" using a mixture of general fund dollars and federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act funds, said Superintendent Judy Gilreath. "That will make a big dent in our" busing needs.
"I've been on the board for 10 years, and we've never been able to buy 10 buses," said Bill Worley, chairman of the school board.
With the new buses, the oldest members of the system's fleet will date to 1998, Ewton said. The system's fleet includes more than 170 buses, and the average age of those buses currently is 14.5 years. The average mileage of those buses is 165,000 miles, and the average cost to add a bus to the fleet is $100,000, according to Ewton. All of the system's buses have at least three cameras for safety and security.
The school board members also approved a contract with GMC Blue Service Inc. for the roof replacement at Antioch Elementary School. GMC Blue Service Inc., of Norcross, scored highest in the system's evaluation rubric that considers categories of price, prior experience, past litigation and a complete and accurate proposal, and it was the least expensive of the eight bids, at a total price of $844,875. According to the contract, the work is to be completed by the end of July.
The school board members approved a contract with PC Solutions & Integration to upgrade wireless networks at a cost of no more than $1.592 million. The Miami, Florida, company was "the low bidder," Ewton said. "All of our schools will have upgraded wireless shortly."
The new North Whitfield Middle School, scheduled to begin hosting students at the start of the 2021-22 academic year, is "on track to finish within the next two weeks," Ewton said. "They're on the punch list now."
"Driveways will be done in the next couple of weeks, and the media center is very much like Valley Point Middle School," which opened for students in August, he said. Both media centers feature "a lot of modular, moveable furniture" to maximize versatility.
Despite the pandemic, Whitfield County Schools hasn't stopped safety drills, said Richard Knox, the school system's safety coordinator. Officials have made adjustments, however.
For example, instead of actually huddling everyone in a classroom into a corner, teachers just talk about doing that in the event of an emergency, in order to maintain social distancing, Knox said. "School safety still needs to be on our radar, and it is."
Whitfield County Schools has eight school resource officers through a contract with the Whitfield County Sheriff's Office, and each officer is responsible for two or three schools, he said. Each school also has a school safety coordinator, a role filled by the assistant principal at each school.
All schools have emergency operations plans, which are shared with local public safety officials and the Georgia Emergency Management Agency, he said. Each school has two identified points if the need arises to evacuate the building, and the coordinates of those points are shared with local public safety agencies.
"Everything we do revolves around emergency preparedness," Knox said. The focus is on "prevention, preparedness and response."
The next meeting of the Whitfield County Board of Education is scheduled for Monday, May 3, at 6:30 p.m. at the school system's central office.