Northampton OKs Using Borrowed High School Money for Other Updates

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By Stefanie Jackson – Using money originally borrowed for renovations and new construction at the middle and high school complex in Eastville, Northampton supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday night to award contracts to ABM Facility Support Services to replace outdated, failing equipment in Northampton’s public buildings and elementary schools with energy- and cost-saving options.

It was the culmination of several actions supervisors have taken on the ABM project over the last month.

On March 23, Northampton supervisors unanimously approved ABM’s proposals to perform work at county facilities for $2.6 million and at Kiptopeke and Occohannock Elementary schools for approximately $20 million. Upgrades to systems such as heating, cooling, and lighting are needed in county buildings including the courthouse, jail, sheriff’s office, social services building, and administration building.

But the most work is needed at the elementary schools, which are 28 years old and have HVAC systems that have exceeded their 20-year lifespan.

Furthermore, both schools contain water pipes that were found to be made from substandard steel, resulting in pipes corroding and bursting long before the end of what should have been a 50-year lifespan.

Because the equipment at the elementary schools is in such poor condition and creates a high capital risk, supervisors decided to have ABM begin work at the schools in June.

On April 13, supervisors passed a resolution to fund the elementary school project with the money they borrowed for renovations and new construction at the Northampton middle and high school complex in Eastville.

Last fall, supervisors authorized the issuance of a school bond for about $24 million. Their April 13 resolution authorized spending up to $20 million of those funds on the elementary school projects.

The resolution stated the funds are being repurposed because the middle and high school project “has not proceeded as quickly as anticipated.”

The goal is to replace the old HVAC systems at Occohannock and Kiptopeke elementary schools with brand-new geothermal systems designed and installed by ABM.

Additional work to be performed at the schools includes upgrading the building envelopes, adding insulation and taking other measures to prevent unwanted air flow in and out of the buildings. Interior and exterior lighting will be upgraded and transformers will be replaced.

The work will be completed over the course of two summers to avoid any disruption to instruction. All work to be done at Kiptopeke Elementary will completed in 2021.

Much of the work to be done at Occohannock Elementary also will be completed in 2021, with the exception of the installation of the geothermal HVAC system. Replacing all the water pipes is the top priority for Occohannock in 2021.

The contract for the elementary schools authorizes ABM to perform work this year totaling $10.8 million. A separate contract will be written for the remaining work that will begin next summer.

ABM representatives do not yet know how much it will cost to finish the elementary school projects because they have yet to determine how much rework they will need to do.

For example, they may need to reinstall the ceiling tiles at Occohannock after the water pipes are replaced, only to take them back down the following summer when they install the new HVAC system and then put them back up again.

But the risk of doing nothing about the pipes now is unacceptable, said Supervisor John Coker.

Although hesitant to estimate the remaining cost of the school projects, ABM agreed to Chairman Dixon Leatherbury’s request to determine a price range.

In another matter, County Administrator Charlie Kolakowski announced Northampton received a $345,000 grant from the Virginia Department of Emergency Management to purchase a generator for the former Northampton Middle School building in Machipongo.

Northampton also received a $45,000 grant to assist private company Canonie Atlantic in cleaning up the former railroad yard in Cape Charles, part of the county’s effort to support economic development.