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Plugging leaks: 4 Gainesville schools need new roofs
These roof leaks are located inside the office of Fair Street International Baccalaureate World School principal William Campbell. Campbell poked holes in the ceiling tile to drain out the water that had accumulated. - photo by SARA GUEVARA
Estimates for roof replacements
  • Centennial Arts Academy: $450,000
  • Enota Multiple Intelligences Academy: $695,000
  • Fair Street IB World School: $861,000
  • Old gym at Gainesville High School: $130,000
  • Wood’s Mill Academy: $964,000
Drip. Drip. Drip.

It is raining, and students at Fair Street IB World School know the drill.

The roof of the 70-year-old school leaks in hallways, a few classrooms and the gym. Elementary schoolers scatter to put trash cans and bins in strategic positions.

"When it rains, we have some kids who know where to put the buckets. They know where the water is going to fall," said Fair Street Principal Will Campbell.

Fair Street is one of four Gainesville schools that needs a total roof replacement.

Enota Multiple Intelligences Academy and Centennial Arts Academy need new roofs. So does Wood's Mill Academy - the old middle school building that houses various programs. The old gym at Gainesville High also needs a new roof.

Keith Vincent, manager of maintenance and operations for Gainesville schools, estimates the roof replacements will cost $3.1 million.

David Syfan is the chairman of the Gainesville school board, which has a deficit of about $780,000 in a time of unprecedented cuts to education.

"Of course, we don't have anywhere near that amount of money," he said.

Heavy rains, big leaks

Vincent said last month's flooding rains made roof conditions worse.

"After a five-year drought and you get a deluge like that, you find problems you didn't know you had," he said.

Vincent said he and his six maintenance workers are doing their best to address the leaks as they arise.

"There's been improvement, but it's still frustrating to mop up floors," Campbell said. "But what are you going to do? The money's not there."

He said educators are doing their best to work around the water and understand the board's dilemma.

A $42,000 federal bond paid for $29,000 of repairs to the Centennial Arts Academy roof this spring. The remainder was spent on insulation, ceiling tiles and mold removal at the elementary school.

Centennial Principal Charlene Williams said the repairs were "definitely" an improvement.

"The job that they did last (school) year was a great improvement, but we do still have some leaks," she said.

At least one modular unit is leaking, in addition to leaks in the gym, hallways and classrooms.

New school delays fixes

While stormy skies send maintenance workers scrambling to keep elementary school hallways and electrical rooms dry, 1,400 students are sitting pretty in the $33 million Gainesville Middle School that opened in August.

Syfan said the old middle school building on Wood's Mill Road was overcrowded, the roof was in poor shape and, at the time, the other schools' roofs weren't as big of a priority. When funds from the special purpose local option sales tax were available to the school system years ago, the board spent most of the money on the new middle school building.

"The roofs just kept getting pushed back," he said. "It's definitely at the point that we need to fix it. It is a priority for the board."

About $300,000 left over from the middle school SPLOST project, which came in slightly under budget, could be applied to roof repairs, Syfan said.

Vincent said in his nearly two years with the system, he has kept the board apprised of the roof issues.

"In the past, if there was nothing leaking there was no reason to spend money if you could spend it better elsewhere. It's like triage," he said. "You have to spend it where it's most important at the time."

Principals say temporary repairs, such as rubber patches on roofs and replacing soggy ceiling tiles, allow schools to keep functioning. For now, kids are safe and dry.

Syfan said the board is counting on the next SPLOST, which could go into effect in 2012 if voters approve it in 2011, to fund the roof replacements.

A patchwork plan

Gainesville Superintendent Merrianne Dyer said the board considered using federal stimulus funds to fix roofs, but the stimulus act would require the school system to pay project workers according to the Davis-Bacon Act, which guarantees employees locally prevailing wages and fringe benefits.

"We were advised by the state to think carefully because they projected projects would cost us 20 to 30 percent more if we adhered to the Davis-Bacon Act, and that would include all that SPLOST work we'd like to do. So we decided not to do that because we want to hold costs down," she said. "There's a lot of work we have to do, so we want to get the best value. It was tempting, though."

Leak-free roofs are likely still three years away.

"Unfortunately, I think we're in a sort of Band-Aid situation where we're just going to have to patch and kind of Band-Aid it and live with it for a while," Syfan said.

Vincent said the board has three options: reroof schools starting with Fair Street; reroof the worst sections at each school; or redo seams on all roofs. He said the best option may be to reroof the worst sections at each school until, voters willing, SPLOST funds come through in 2012 to complete the job.

"We could find the worst area (at Fair Street) and do a total roof replacement in that area while we're doing the same thing at Enota," he said.

Dyer said a charter school governance council meeting on Tuesday aims for school representatives and principals to devise a plan to plug the roofs.

"We've asked the schools to prioritize their needs," she said. "We'll be able to go ahead and do that this summer. ... We don't have the money to do it all, but we'll do what we can and do what matters most to each school."