Resolution adopted urging school board action on roofs

Published 12:07 pm Friday, June 10, 2022

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The Southampton County Board of Supervisors voted 6-0 at its May 24 meeting to adopt a resolution imploring the Southampton County School Board to carefully survey its school buildings for roof leaks and promptly file warranty claims for any defective work or materials.

Drewryville District Supervisor Dallas O. Jones was not present for the meeting.

Alan W. Edwards

Jerusalem District Supervisor and Board Chair Dr. Alan W. Edwards opened the board’s consideration of the resolution by stating that “a lot of us on the board are getting calls from teachers and citizens and students that the roofs in the schools are leaking.

“I might say this has been a very frustrating experience for me, before I even get started,” he said. “So, we invited the school board to send a representative to, I believe, our November 2020 meeting, and they said, ‘No.’ They weren’t going to send anybody in to give us a report on the roofs. So that’s been the story ever since then.”

He said that some of the members of the Board of Supervisors have asked school leaders if they could go in and inspect the roofs when it was raining. 

“They said, ‘Absolutely not,’” Edwards recalled. “So we keep getting these reports. I’ve gotten reports the last several weeks from teachers. One teacher told me that there were marks on her floor where she has to put the trash cans when it rains. And I’ve had students also tell me that they’ve had ceilings fall in on them, and there’s black mold.”

Lynda T. Updike

Newsoms District Supervisor Lynda T. Updike said, “And that black mold is not healthy.”

Edwards noted that the three-year warranty on workmanship for the school roofs expires in September.

“We’re nearing that summit, so out of frustration, I think, we came up with this resolution,” he said, a moment before reading it in full.

The resolution leads up to its urgent call for action from the school board by giving the recent history of the school roofs. 

That history first noted that in early 2016, the school board met jointly with the Board of Supervisors to express its concerns with the condition of multiple school roofs and sought the Board of Supervisors’ cooperation in developing a plan to remove and replace the roofs at each school building in Southampton County.

The Board of Supervisors responded favorably to the school board’s request, engaging its financial advisor later that year to prepare a Plan of Finance to fund approximately $5.9 million in school roof improvements.

On April 22, 2019, the Board of Supervisors determined that it was advisable to finance the costs of the school roofs requested by the school board and asked its Industrial Development Authority to issue its revenue bonds to finance the project.

On May 24, 2019, the IDA sold $5,950,000 in revenue bonds to finance the replacement of the roofs on Capron Elementary School, Southampton High School, Southampton Technical Career Center, Meherrin Elementary School, Southampton Middle School, Nottoway Elementary School and Riverdale Elementary School, with the Board of Supervisors pledging to appropriate such sums as may be necessary to pay the principal and interest on the bonds.

With financing secured, the school board entered into contract with multiple roofing contractors during the summer of 2019 to remove and replace the roof on each public school building, and each was covered by a 20-year materials warranty and a three-year warranty on workmanship.

On May 11, 2021, the Board of Supervisors issued $5 million in general obligation school bonds through the Virginia Public School Authority to refinance its obligations under the IDA’s aforementioned revenue bonds. 

In order to service the debt on the VPSA bonds, the Board of Supervisors is required to appropriate more than $280,000 annually, through 2041, for principal and interest associated with the school roofs replacement project.

As the resolution neared its conclusion, it noted that the Board of Supervisors is vested by statutory law with power over the county purse, answerable and accountable to the county taxpayers, while care and maintenance of school buildings, including their roofs, is vested exclusively in the school board.

“Whereas, the Board of Supervisors continues to receive reports of multiple leaks in various school buildings,” the resolution stated, “Now, therefore, be it resolved by the Board of Supervisors of Southampton County, Virginia, that it officially goes on record imploring the Southampton County School Board to exercise its fiduciary responsibility, acting in the best interest of its students, faculty, staff and county taxpayers by carefully surveying each school building for roof leaks and promptly filing warranty claims for any defective materials or workmanship prior to the expiration of the warranty on workmanship in September 2022; and be it further resolved that the Board of Supervisors respectfully requests to receive a copy of the results of such roof surveys and any associated warranty claims that may be filed.”

Earlier during the Board of Supervisors’ May 24 meeting, two members of the public had spoken during the public comment period about the school roofs.

Glenn Updike

Glenn Updike, of Newsoms, said the cost to the county to repair the roofs after the warranty period could be millions of dollars.

“If the company’s got a guarantee, why in the world don’t both the school board and the Board of Supervisors write and give them the last word,” he said, noting that the boards should ask them to come and fix the roofs. “If everything is fixed, everything’s good, great. But I want them to come and inspect it and give us a firm answer.

“I don’t think that many children, teachers and visitors would stand before you and lie about the roof leaking, buckets collecting water,” he continued. “So we’ve only got a short time. We can sit on our hands if we want to, but I don’t know where the couple million dollars is going to come from when the schools wind up with a roof leaking.

“So I’m encouraging you — do whatever you need to, cross everybody in the county,” he added. “It might make them mad, but let’s make the construction companies live up to their deals.”

He encouraged supervisors to put this task at the top of their list.

“You’ve only got two months, basically, to get it done, and they really needed done about six months ago, and why we’re dragging our feet, I don’t know,” he said. “So please, please, I don’t have the money to put in a new roof on these schoolhouses, so please, put your foot down.”

Warren Simmons, of Courtland, said to the supervisors, “Let me tell you something about those schools: You paid the bills to put those roofs on. You didn’t give the money to the school board, because before they couldn’t handle it. So you took it on, you and the people before you, so that’s your roof.”

He told the board that it needs to address the roofs. 

“You paid for it, and it belongs to this county, and like Mr. Updike said, we can’t afford to borrow a couple more million dollars to fix a roof a third time that should have been fixed from the first time,” he said.

After Edwards concluded reading the resolution later in the meeting, he opened the floor to supervisor comments, and Lynda Updike said, “I agree with Glenn that the Board of Supervisors needs to be more involved, and I agree with Warren Simmons as well. We’ve waited and waited on the school board, and as far as I know, nothing’s been done.”

Christopher D. Cornwell Sr.

Berlin/Ivor District Supervisor Christopher D. Cornwell Sr. said he could not agree more with Simmons and Lynda Updike.

“Those roofs belong to the citizens of this county,” he said. “We paid for them with the tax dollars provided to us by the hardworking citizens of this county, the ones that elected us to be here to be good fiscal, responsible stewards of their hard-earned dollars.”

He noted that he and his fellow supervisors have talked a lot in the last several years about the roles and responsibilities of the Board of Supervisors and the school board, and he said that he was perfectly clear on what those roles and responsibilities are.

“We know that we have a fiscal responsibility to the school board,” he said. “We provide them the money, they spend it, essentially to educate our children. I think we all can agree on that fiscal responsibility. I think where the disagreement begins is to what extent that fiscal responsibility lies. 

“We’ve been told as it pertains to the roofs to pretty much stay in our lane,” he continued. “That’s their responsibility. Once we paid for them, it became their responsibility to handle and ensure that these contracts were carried out. 

“I think that’s where the differences of opinion occur, because I feel like we still have a fiscal responsibility to ensure that the warranties are carried out as they should be and that the roofs were installed and maintained appropriately, because that falls under the fiscal responsibility we owe the citizens of the county in being good stewards of their tax dollars,” he said.

He noted that this opinion is why he was in complete favor of the entire resolution moving forward.

Carl J. Faison

Boykins District Supervisor Carl J. Faison spoke next, saying, “We have to deal with reality here. From reports, the problems with the roofs seem to be real, and the warranty is expiring, so I certainly approve of this (resolution).”

Capron District Supervisor and Board Vice Chair William Hart Gillette said he concurred.

Recalling the time he sought a walkthrough to see if there was any evidence of leaks, Gillette said, “Personally, it was disheartening to call for an appointment and (be) told, ‘Absolutely not,’ that I couldn’t even go in the school. And that was a year and a half ago when we were getting about 7 inches of rain, and the answer was, until I made a phone call at 10 o’clock that morning, the roof wasn’t leaking.”

William Hart Gillette

He later said, “The building belongs to the school board, as I understand it. It does not belong to the county,” but he reiterated his disappointment that he was barred from entering the school.

Lynda Updike added, “And you and I are graduates of that school.”

“I’m not the only one that was told they couldn’t go in the school,” Gillette said. “So, we’ve no choice but to adopt this resolution, in my opinion, and send it over there expecting answers before the warranty runs out, and so I’m in favor of that.”

Edwards said, “I’d like to add we need to make sure that a copy of this goes to each individual school board member, and I’ll tell you why — because I think if we don’t, they’re not going to get it. I’m just going to be very honest with you — I think a lot of things do not filter down from the top to the average school board member.

“So unless anybody disagrees, we need to get a copy to every school board member, and I’d like to see a copy sent to the contractor, just to let them know that things are being looked at,” Edwards added. “Does anybody have any problem with that?”

Agreeing with Edwards, Updike said, “I think we need to.”

The 6-0 vote followed moments later.