Southampton County School Board approves funds for two facilities projects

Published 6:02 pm Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

The Southampton County School Board gave its official approval Feb. 12 to use approximately $2 million in American Rescue Plan Act money to build a Student Health and Education Center on the high school campus and to revitalize the old school board building to establish a Parent Resource Center.

Deborah Goodwyn

Board Chair Dr. Deborah Goodwyn introduced the subject during the board’s Feb. 12 meeting by noting that Southampton County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Gwendolyn P. Shannon had begun doing work toward the development of these new centers back in 2023.

“Several months ago, the board asked the superintendent to seek the approvals needed to use approximately $2 million in funding received from the American Rescue Plan (Act) for two facilities projects,” Goodwyn said. “And these projects related to several of the division goals. One of our goals is to expand capital improvements, another goal deals with student health and another goal deals with, of course, student achievement.”

Goodwyn said Shannon followed through on the board’s unofficial direction, and she received the necessary approvals to expend the money on these facilities projects. Now she needed the board’s official approval.

Before calling for a vote on the matter, Goodwyn briefly summarized the projects.

“So one project would be to establish or to build on the campus of the high school a building that we’re calling a Student Health and Education Center, and it would be a facility that could be used to encourage and support student health activities, programs, classes, that kind of thing,” she said. 

“And then the second project would be to rehabilitate or revitalize the old school board building that’s housed close to the current school board office, to revitalize that building so that we can house an expanded and an up-to-date Parent Resource Center,” she said. 

“So those are the two projects that we’re asking to have funded through this money,” she added.

Gwendolyn P. Shannon

She asked Shannon if she had anything to add.

“I’d also like to add a request for the approval of the architect and engineering firm who will actually help us with doing this work,” Shannon said. “Mr. (Will) Melbye is prepared to come forward and talk to us a little bit about these projects and the architect. He’s the person who actually conducted the request for bid.”

Goodwyn said that before Melbye, the school division’s coordinator of auxiliary services and transportation, came to talk about the firm, the board should officially vote to use the $2 million in ARPA funds for the projects.

Board Member Dr. Jennifer Tindle made the motion to this effect, and Board Vice Chair Christopher Smith Sr. seconded it. The motion passed by an 8-1 vote, with the lone dissenting vote being cast by Board Member Brandon Rodgers.

In a Monday, Feb. 19, email interview with The Tidewater News, Rodgers shared what thoughts and rationale led to his vote.

“I voted ‘nay’ to the motion as it was the first time the project was brought to my attention since being elected to the board in January,” he said. “While I support ensuring that the division attends to the health and wellness of students and properly equips parents to support the academic achievements of our students, I did not have sufficient information at the time of the vote to understand how these projects were the most efficient means of accomplishing those goals. 

“Moreover,  I’m not aware of an established capital improvement budget or priority list at this time and as such did not feel it was in the best interest of the division to move forward in absence of those items,” he added.

Following the vote at the meeting, Goodwyn said, “The second item pertaining to this matter, then, is once we got the approval, we needed to have a firm that could help us carry out this project. So this is the part that Mr. Melbye is going to report on now.”

Melbye indicated that last year, the school division put out an invitation for bid for architectural and engineering plans.

“Crabtree, Rohrbaugh & Associates, out of Charlottesville, was the premier one that came out of the group,” he said. “On a rubric scale out of 100 points, they scored 98, with their lone deductions being that they are about two-and-a-half, three hours away.

“But other than that, they have extensive work in K-12 throughout the commonwealth, throughout Pennsylvania and North Carolina, and they are the firm that’s heading up the new construction in Brunswick County right now,” he added.

Goodwyn stated that Crabtree, Rohrbaugh & Associates would assist SCPS with site design, development, construction drawings and with construction administration.

“But the next step would be to hire this firm to do the site design and construction drawings,” she said.

Board Member Denise Bunn motioned and Smith seconded to accept the bid from Crabtree, Rohrbaugh & Associates, retaining the firm to assist the division with the facilities projects.

Brandon Rodgers

Goodwyn asked if there was any more discussion before the vote, and Rodgers asked if payment to the firm would be paid out of the ARPA funds. Goodwyn said, “Yes.”

Board Member Orris Lane then asked multiple questions, one of which was, “When is this project going to start?”

“As soon as we’re able to get the approval,” Melbye said.

She then asked about projected dates, and it was indicated to her that after the board’s approval and the firm’s start with site design and construction, then Melbye could come back to the board with additional information about dates.

Melbye was asked to confirm that the target date is to have most of the facilities projects completed before the end of 2024.

“If everything falls in line, yes,” he said.

Goodwyn added, “Remember that the district has to commit the funds, of course, by September 2024, but then the funds have to be expended by the end of January 2025, which means that we need to get started now, because the project needs to be completed by January 2025.”

An 8-0 vote followed to accept the bid from Crabtree, Rohrbaugh & Associates.

In the Feb. 19 email interview, Rodgers explained why he opted to vote to accept the bid after having voted “nay” on the prior vote.

“Given the board had approved the previous resolution and received affirmation by Mr. Melbye as the division head responsible for facilities that the selected firm submitted the most competitive bid for the service, there was no reason to delay additional action and risk the loss of funding to support the board’s decision to move forward with the aforementioned capital projects,” he said.