By Stefanie Jackson
A Northampton budget appropriation request for $33,426 to start immediately needed repairs on the high school’s auditorium walls prompted objection from one supervisor Dec. 11.
Northampton schools will combine the funds with $65,116 left over from cafeteria wall repairs made about three years ago, for a total of $98,542, exactly double the bid made by the contractor hired.
Based on past experience with the cafeteria walls, school division staff suspects that once the brick veneer is removed from the auditorium walls, significant damage will be revealed, increasing project costs.
But Supervisor David Fauber said, “We had numerous engineers in there … nobody has pointed this out as being a real problem except for Speight, Marshall, Francis,” the school division’s regular structural engineer. He was referring to engineers who were interviewed to conduct a formal investigation of the high school’s condition.
“I’ve got a real problem with spending $65,000 on one spot in this whole scheme of things,” Fauber said. “If this needs to be done now and if this is twice what the project is really going to cost, then I say let the school board take it out of their maintenance budget and then fix it.”
Superintendent Eddie Lawrence answered, “Mr. Fauber, that is the request we’re making. … I would remind you, humbly, if I could, none of the engineering firms were taken up on top of that building to look at this particular wall. That was not part of the mandatory walkthrough in the request for proposals.”
An April letter to Northampton schools’ Director of Operations Chris Truckner from professional engineer Daniel Speight reported the auditorium walls have bowed eight to 12 inches and need to be repaired to prevent partial collapse.
Speight also said “the entire facility can best be described as fair to poor,” including the original 1954 building and the 1978 addition.
Northampton County’s finance director, John Chandler, views the high school’s woes as a cautionary tale. He recently discovered the courthouse’s nearly 14-year-old HVAC system has been failing for the past year. The building has been using emergency heat since last winter and the air conditioning didn’t work at all on several days over the summer.
The air conditioning was fixed, but it will cost $50,000 or more to repair the heating system, Chandler said.
He said, “I think what’s happened is, this is one of those projects similar to what could happen with the school. They fix what they thought was the problem and then, now there’s another problem, and another problem, and another problem.”
Chandler added the county will need to spend about $30,000 to extend the life of the courthouse roof another five years.
Spencer Murray, chairman of the board of supervisors, lamented the costs and advised staff to check the warranties on the HVAC system and roof.
“This is absolutely ridiculous,” he said. “I cannot believe we can’t build a building in this county that doesn’t last more than 14 years (without) major problems.”
But the county has an undesignated fund balance of about $8.5 million or $9 million saved for such unforeseen expenses, he added.
Fauber also disagreed with Northampton contributing $10,000 to the cost of the Hampton Roads Sanitation District conducting an engineering study to connect the sewer systems in Exmore, Nassawadox, Melfa, and Onancock. Each town will also contribute $10,000 toward the $100,000 study.
“Once this is engineered … is there any hope that it’ll ever be constructed?” he questioned.
Fauber pointed out Northampton previously paid for engineering of sewage projects in both the northern and southern ends of the county, but funding was never obtained.
Murray said the Northampton County Public Service Authority had Murray said the Northampton County Public Service Authority had planned to borrow the money for those projects. Now the county plans to seek “external funding” for its sewage needs.
But the two old sewage projects are “ready to roll,” Fauber said.
“Are you talking about the pipe to nowhere from Cape Charles to Route 13?” Murray asked.
The county had paid engineering firm Hurt & Proffitt $177,000 to examine that project, but it was abandoned when only two customers signed up, he said.
Fauber blamed the county for failing to “get behind” the project and doesn’t foresee the new project garnering support.
It would require a sewer pipe covering a distance of about 25 miles, ending in Onancock, where the wastewater would be treated.
“How far is it from Cheriton to Cape Charles? Two miles,” Fauber said. “The point is, Cheriton’s got the same sewer problems everybody else has.”
Cape Charles’ sewage plant has a capacity of 250,000 gallons and processes about 150,000 gallons of wastewater per day.
Onancock Town Manager Bill Kerbin said Onancock’s sewage plant has a capacity of 750,000 gallons and processes about 250,000 gallons of wastewater per day. The new engineering study would determine if Onancock could handle its own sewage and that of three smaller towns.
Exmore and Nassawadox need additional sewer service so both towns can expand. Nassawadox has no sewer service of its own; seven customers near the former location of Riverside Shore Memorial Hospital are connected to a sewer system owned and operated by Riverside Health System, Murray said.
Supervisor John Coker advised that the study should be done so Northampton can be among the first to apply for federal funding for infrastructure if it becomes available in 2019.
Supervisor Oliver Bennett made the motion to contribute $10,000 to the engineering study, seconded by Fauber and passed unanimously.
“I’m absolutely for it. My problem with any of it is that I’d hate to do another study that’s just going to sit on the table,” Fauber said.
By Stefanie Jackson