Funds approved for S.P. Morton’s HVAC, security systems

Published 8:00 am Thursday, March 14, 2024

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The Franklin City Council voted Monday, March 11, to send more than $735,000 to Franklin City Public Schools to help with replacement of the HVAC system at the elementary school and to pay for two weapon scanners at the elementary school and the training to use them.

The specific total allocated to the school division via Budget Amendment 2024-15 was $735,508.25. Of that total, $582,855.25 had been originally budgeted to FCPS but was not allocated to any project by the division and thus reverted back to the city, creating the need for the division to submit a carryover request to get the money back.

At its Feb. 12 meeting, the Franklin City Council members significantly disagreed regarding FCPS’s request for this same carryover funding to support three capital projects at that time: the HVAC system replacement, an upgrade to the Franklin High School auditorium’s audio/visual equipment, and the purchase of one diesel bus.

The council ultimately voted 4-3 at the Feb. 12 meeting to deny the school division its request.

Ward 4 Councilman Dr. Linwood Johnson, Ward 5 Councilwoman and Vice Mayor Wynndolyn H. Copeland, and Mayor Robert “Bobby” Cutchins voted in favor of the motion.

Voting in opposition to the motion were Ward 6 Councilwoman Jessica G. Banks, Ward 3 Councilman Gregory McLemore, Ward 2 Councilman Ray Smith and Ward 1 Councilman Mark R. Kitchen.

On March 11, FCPS Superintendent Dr. Carlton Carter and FCPS Director of Operations Dr. Clint Walters returned with a carryover request for the full carryover amount of $582,855.25, but this time, their request indicated they would focus the use of the funds solely on Phase I of its project to replace S.P. Morton Elementary School’s HVAC system.

“What I’ve provided is an estimate that we’ve received from a local vendor to replace the building level controls and water-source heat pumps throughout the building,” Walters said. “And you’ll see that this totals $1.26 million. Recognizing that this is a significant financial impact both to the city and to FCPS, I’m proposing that this project be divided into two phases, each phase roughly $630,000.

“The first phase would include replacement of the building level controls and approximately 25 water-source heat pumps that directly impact classrooms,” he continued. “We would be considering Phase II to replace the remaining water-source heat pumps that impact the common areas, including the hallways, the cafeteria and the gym.”

It was later noted by Carter that the school division will be aiming to pay for Phase II by incorporating it into its Capital Improvement Plan.

The carryover funding request on March 11 was designed to help FCPS pay for the majority of Phase I.

“This is a significant project, and so we still have not received any word on the (School Construction Assistance Program) grant that we’ve submitted, so this does not assume any SCAP funding to help with this project, but this is a consolidation of the request that we made a couple of weeks ago,” Walters said.

The remaining $152,653 of the aforementioned $735,508.25 will pay for two weapon scanners and training from Alliance Technology Group to use them.

Carter introduced those needs when he addressed the council during the Citizen’s Time public comment period on March 11.

“Tonight I will present an amendment request regarding our HVAC needs at S.P. Morton Elementary School, which is critical to the future operations of the building,” he said. “However, due to last week’s incident at the elementary school where a 5-year-old student had a gun in his backpack, I’m also in desperate need of emergency funds in the amount of $152,653 for two weapon scanners at the elementary school. This would include training and installation.”

After notable discussion among council members, Johnson made a motion to approve the budget amendment requested by the school division, adding in the weapon scanners and training.

After more discussion, the council voted 4-0 to pass the motion.

Johnson, Kitchen, Copeland and Cutchins voted in favor of the motion, Banks and McLemore abstained, and Smith was absent.


Kitchen asked Carter if he was asking for the $152,653 that evening for the weapon scanners and training.

“I can ask for it tonight,” Carter said. “I would like to also ask for it tonight.”

Kitchen said, “Because the metal detectors really can’t wait, just my opinion. The HVAC, with warm weather coming…”

Carter said, “I will definitely need both, whatever you can give me.”

Banks said she agrees that the children are the city’s top priority.

“However, I do think with budget planning that if we know we have three older (school) buildings that there should definitely be a line item so that it’s not contingent upon a carryover to make sure that things like this are fixed, and that’s my stance,” she said. 

Referencing Carter specifically, she said, “Now, however, I know that you’re new in this role, but the board chair was still the same and the powers that be were still the same, and so in that case, I do feel like a line item should be created for older buildings because we have three older buildings.

“So that’s my stance,” she continued. “I wasn’t unclear on that, and I still feel that way tonight. However, I do agree the children should not be freezing, I do agree they should not be using porta potties. I think that just needs to be clear and considered in the upcoming budget, so that’s my perspective on tonight.”

In conclusion, she addressed Carter and a comment he made at the Feb. 12 meeting.

“And when you said that if (the HVAC system replacement) doesn’t get done, you’re going to tell them to play back the (Feb. 12 City Council) meeting, I would suggest that they play back your meetings to see where the money has been going,” she said.

McLemore said that the city has been carrying over money every year from the school budget for years.

“I do believe in ‘If you don’t use it, you lose it,’ because we give it to you to use it,” he said to Carter. “We don’t give it to you to come back and say you’ve got extra money, because we are limited in what we are able to do in regard to the school system. We appoint, and we give money. What you do with that money once we give it to you is totally out of our control. 

“If your board decides tomorrow, ‘Well, the metal detectors and training, that’s more important, so we’re going to take that money that we have for the HVAC and we’re going to get that, because that’s a priority now,’ then we have no control over that,” he continued. “We have no control over how you spend money once we give it to you. The only control we have is either to give it or not.”

McLemore said the city is in dire need of funds.

“I think that HVAC system should have been a priority above a lot of the things,” he said. “Similar to what the councillady said, this shouldn’t have even been a question in carryover money. That money should have been used for those HVAC systems while you had it rather than list it as carryover money. 

“So I do think the children are our future, and we should look out for our children, but unfortunately, this body does not have the privilege of controlling how the school board spends its money,” he added.

He referenced a Franklin City School Board meeting he attended recently in which a plethora of gifts and recognition plaques were being handed out that he estimated cost several thousand dollars.

“Somebody decided it’s OK to spend that money, you’ve got it to spend,” he said. “I would rather spend those monies on things for the children.”

He also addressed a comment from the Feb. 12 meeting that middle school students were having to use porta potties.

“I was told the kids were going to porta pots, found that that wasn’t accurate, because yes there are porta pots over there, but they’re just being used when kids are playing teams or something like that,” McLemore said. “We were given information that was not accurate.

“Like the council lady said, people were told, ‘Well, watch the meeting,’ as if it’s our fault that the kids aren’t getting what they need,” he said. “I’ve got kids. All of us don’t have kids. I’ve got kids, I care about kids in school, but I also realize our obligation to the citizens of this city, not just the ones with children but to all the citizens. So when we go giving money that you didn’t use that was yours to use, we say, ‘Well, we can use that money.’ So that’s my position on this matter.”

Cutchins said, “It was brought to my attention today that, if I remember the numbers correctly, there’s 132 school systems in the state of Virginia, and all of them had carryovers, if I remember my numbers correctly. And that surprised me a little bit, because I’d always been one that said I didn’t understand the carryovers and didn’t feel the massive amount of dollars should be tied up, the taxpayer’s dollars. That’s always been my take.

“But I think you getting the capital improvement for your buildings together and plan, I think you will resolve a lot of our issues from the past that we’ve seen, and going forward I think it can be much smoother and appropriate,” he continued, addressing Carter. “The children are our future, and by saying that, you guys are as well by what you do in your leadership to take us forward, and I appreciate that.”

Johnson said, “Mr. Mayor, on that note, I move we approve Budget Amendment 2024-15, adding the (weapons detection) systems to it as well and training.”

Copeland seconded the motion.

There was discussion about the motion’s specifics and the amount of money being approved for allocation to the school division.

Franklin City Manager Amanda C. Jarratt said, “The total amount that Franklin City Public Schools has remaining for their carryover is the $582,855, and so that is what this budget amendment was drafted for. If you were to choose to offer any additional funds over that amount, that would have to come from your unassigned fund balance, so that is additional money, that is new money.”

She noted that if the council directs staff to provide funds for the weapon scanners and training, “we would have to come back to you with a budget amendment at your next meeting that removes money from the city’s fund balance to pay for the security system.”

When McLemore brought up Phase II of the HVAC replacement project and how that would involve another $630,000 from the city, Copeland noted that the school system’s capital funds would address Phase II.

Carter said, “We’ll have to budget to try to save for Phase II. As Councilwoman Banks just stated — put it in a capital improvement line item, which I am all for, because when I first came on as superintendent, that was the goal, was to put in a capital improvement line item, so I am all for that, to take whatever my remaining funds (are) to pay for Phase II.”

In an effort to sum up the decision before the council on Monday, Cutchins said, “I think what we’re looking at here is the HVAC system needs to be fixed. You can’t put a price on our children, OK, so if this is a need, the security of our schools, and we feel it’s a must, we need to act.”

McLemore reiterated, “My main concern is once we ‘Aye, Aye, Aye, Aye’ to give them the money, if they decide next week that something else is more important to do with that money, they can do it, and there ain’t nothing we can say about it.”

Cutchins said, “Well, I have my belief that they’re going to do the proper thing,” and Johnson added, “Same here.”

The vote followed immediately thereafter.