Suwannee Democrat


February 6, 2014

Workshops uncover building safety issues at HamCo elem. schools

Jasper — The Hamilton County School Board, led by Superintendent Thomas Moffses, recently conducted a series of workshops at all three elementary schools - South Hamilton, North Hamilton and Central Hamilton - to update the public on safety and security concerns at the schools.

The first workshop took place at South Hamilton Elementary (SHE) in White Springs on Monday, Jan. 27. The second was held at North Hamilton in Jennings on Tuesday, Jan. 28 and the third at Central Hamilton on Thursday, Jan. 30.

Moffses explained that what he was presenting was a continuation of something that began in May of last year.

“The Florida Department of Education’s facilities team came into the county and did a review of our facilities...all facilities...and then came back and gave recommendations to the board, specific to elementary schools,” said Moffses.

The DOE team, he said, found a multitude of safety and security issues at all three schools, including fencing, limited parent pickup and bus loading areas, building structural problems, aging portables, inadequate fire exits, and central heating and air conditioning concerns.

Twice in the past, in 2008 and 2011, Moffses said, the DOE recommended closing both North and South Hamilton.

Central Hamilton, Moffses said, is also nearing that point. The DOE, he said, stated that all of the county’s elementary schools are at an age to be replaced.

“That all was presented to the school board, and from that point, they continued and said Hamilton County was eligible for a construction project,” said Moffses, who then told the audience that there are numerous steps the school board must complete before presenting a plan to the DOE in August.

“This is a continuing process to go through and do an evaluation of what may or may not take place in the future,” Moffses explained before engaging everyone in a video that was put together by General Services Coordinator Chuck Lambert and the Hamilton County High School TV production crew, who visited each school to film critical areas of concern.

The video Moffses presented, he told the board, was an edited version of each school site, and that each facility had unique issues. The full videos for each school, he said, are lengthy, but are available for viewing.

Central Hamilton

The video began at Central Hamilton, which was built in 1967, with Lambert inside the cafetorium explaining that whenever it rains there are major leaks in the ceiling. The room also has heating and cooling issues and can become either extremely cold or extremely hot, depending on the outside weather.

The major issue at Central, he said, is the HVAC system. The film crew followed Lambert into the mechanical room on the east side of the building that houses the air handling units. The ductwork, Lambert said, seemed in fairly good shape, other than it could use some inside cleaning. Above him toward the ceiling, he said the hot and cold water pipes are deteriorating. Even with those issues, Lambert said, Central’s mechanical room was the most well-kept of all three schools.

Another HVAC unit that was recently installed serves the kitchen and has undergone several warranty repair issues already.

On the outside of the building, Lambert explained that the brick veneer on the entire outer shell of the school is deteriorating with mortar joints in several areas falling apart.

“It could eventually separate from the block wall and collapse and fall to the ground,” he said.

South Hamilton

The second video focused on South Hamilton, which was built in 1934.

“This is another unique school in the school district,” said Lambert. “For many, many years it has served as a nucleus to the community of White Springs for several generations.”

Although in its day the school was well constructed, Lambert said, there are safety issues now, such as a non-functioning heating system and a mechanical room that has cracks in the walls and mold. The video also showed numerous wiring issues, including an old circuit breaker box. Lambert said if one of the breakers happened to fail it would be difficult to find a replacement.

“Mr. Hutchins has done a great job maintaining this school with the resources he’s had at hand,” said Lambert. “My hat goes off to him.”

South has the smallest student count in the district with about 180 students. The kitchen is also the smallest of all the schools and the room has no heat, as well as a lot of old equipment.

The gymnasium is in dire need of a paint job and the heating system is very inadequate. All in all, the HVAC system for the entire school is outdated and inefficient.

Moffses said the facility, in order to meet acceptable DOE requirements, would have to be totally re-wired.

North Hamilton

The last video showed numerous issues at North Hamilton, which was built in 1927, and is in the worst condition of the three schools. The facility has a cellar that oftentimes fills up with water, Lambert said. The main building has been sinking over the years and the floors are not level. There are currently 30 jacks under the original main building that are holding up the exterior walls. There is also old piping and some exposed wiring under the building. Additionally, there are brick piers under the building that are starting to sink into the ground.


Moffses said even though he has been to each of the schools numerous times since he took office as superintendent, he was unaware of some of the safety issues until he watched the video. Some of the issues, he said, will need to be immediately addressed.

To attempt to make upgrades at the three elementary sites right now, would cost in the neighborhood of $4-6 million, Moffses said, which was an estimate he received from Clemons-Rutherford.

The DOE has made available a single construction project for the school district, Moffses said, and Clemons-Rutherford estimated the project at $24 million. With the DOE cost share program, a single new facility would cost the district roughly $5-6 million.

What the school board must decide is whether to invest money in fixing three old facilities or building one brand new facility. Moffses explained that DOE has been clear they will not expend any more funding to repair any of the elementary schools, so any money used for that option would come out of the school district’s budget.

It was noted by school board member Johnny Bullard, that both North and South are on the National Register of Historic Places, and the only time to be concerned is when grant money is used to make repairs.

“To say that the National Registry status is something that’s impeding you doing work here is kind of a moot point, because all that takes is a letter from the board over to Tallahassee to say this structure we’re going to remove because we’re going to do repairs the way we want to,” said Bullard.

Lambert said, after recently checking with Tallahassee, he learned that South Hamilton is not on the National Register but is located in a historical district. North Hamilton, he added, is on the National Register.

Moffses explained that the three workshops at the three schools were for informational purposes only, so that the public could understand the process.

“There’s no recommendations on the table. There’s nothing that has been decided,” said Moffses. “This is really just to provide information, as we gather all the information and provide it to the board. If there’s a change or if there is going to be some additional direction, that will be noticed and there will be public sessions to come in and discuss those.”

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