By Cory L. Higgs
A proposal that would help pay for new roofs on school facilities could be a boon in the future, school officials said.
“I couldn’t even begin to estimate the financial burden” if the roofs needed repaired, Patrick County Schools Superintendent Dean Gilbert said. “I would roughly estimate it would be in the millions.”
In Henry County, the roof on Bassett High School is currently being renovated, according to Monica Adams Hatchett, Henry County Public Schools Director of Communications & Organizational Learning. The school division has borne the associated costs.
“We are currently replacing the BHS roof in phases due to expense. To date, it has cost us about $700,000 for approximately 50,000 square feet. It will cost approximately $2.1 million to complete the remaining 150,000 square feet replacement,” Hatchett said.
“We have 13 schools in Henry County as well as two programs housed in their own buildings, for 15 total facilities,” Hatchett said. “Of those facilities, our most urgent needs are Bassett High School and Laurel Park Middle School roof replacements as their warranties have expired.”
Parker A. Gunn, Martinsville City Public Schools Communications and Community Outreach, said that the language in the proposal didn’t allow for them to “delve deep enough” to understand if Martinsville schools would be impacted.
He did not elaborate.
Noting that roofs on school buildings in Patrick County had been replaced several years ago, Gilbert said the county will not realize an immediate benefit from the bill.
“Right now, no we wouldn’t benefit, but just like the roof on your house they will need repair at some point, so eventually yes, we would could benefit from it.”
Gilbert said the county’s school facilities do have other pressing needs, including HVAC units (heating and cooling systems), paving work and various other improvements.
When and if the buildings need a new roof, Gilbert said the state funds are a potential source of revenue to help pay for those replacements.
State Sen. Bill Stanley, R-Moneta, introduced SB4 to create a Public School Assistance Fund and Program that would provide grants to school boards to be used solely for repairing or replacing the roofs of public elementary and secondary school buildings in local school divisions.
He said legislators are “starting to see the importance of fixing and modernizing our schools, and the value it provides to our most precious natural resource, our students. The Virginia Lottery was designed to fund our education system; currently, it is too often appropriated away from our local schools for the general need to balance the budget.
Initially, Stanley sought to amend the bill to allow a portion of the proceeds generated from charitable gaming regulation of “skill” games to fund these projects. In total, the amount of funding generated by the charitable gaming would have been the equivalent of one-hundred million dollars or more per year to fix schools, as well as generate hundreds of millions of dollars for state charities.
State Sen. Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond, proposed tapping proceeds of the Virginia Lottery for $27.5 million to fund the program.
That amount “is not near enough to repair all the schools; while I applaud the effort, this amendment does not even scratch the surface of the financial commitment that Virginia must make towards addressing this serious issue,” Stanley said.
If approved, any Virginia school board may apply for grants through the program, but the state Department of Education is required to give priority to school boards that demonstrate the greatest need based on the condition of existing school building roofs and the ability to pay for repairs or replacements.
Passage of the proposal is contingent on funding in a general appropriation act.
The bill, now SB4E as amended, currently is in the House Appropriations.