Limited funds, extensive needs

By: By Charles Warner -

By Charles Warner

UNION COUNTY — While $570,000 is a lot of money it really isn’t that much when measured against the building maintenance, repair, replacement, and new construction needs of the Union County School District.

Once a year, the Union County School District issues a general obligation bond to generate the funds needed to pay for the construction of Jonesville Elementary/Middle School and Sims Middle School. While the primary purpose of the issuance is to pay for the two schools, in recent years a combination of factors has resulted in the bond issues generating more funds than required to make the payments. The additional funds generated by the bond issues has enabled the district to undertake some infrastructure projects.

This was the background to a presentation Monday evening by District Finance Director Lynn Lawson to the Union County Board of School Trustees. Lawson briefed the board on the amount of funds the district currently has on hand as a result of the higher return on the bonds and the various infrastructure projects — some them quite pressing — that the funds could be used for. He said that currently the district has $570,000 on hand from the bond issues that can be used to address the district infrastructure needs, but cautioned that those needs amount to much more than the funds on hand.

In an interview with The Union Daily Times Wednesday morning,

Lawson explained that for the past two-three years a combination of interest rates and other factors have enabled the bond issues by the district to generate more revenue than needed to make the payments on JEMS and Sims. Lawson said this has been going on since 2013 and that the revenue the district has been able to accumulate as a result of the better than expected performance of the bonds has enabled it to tackle the following projects earlier this year:

• Installation of new bleachers at JEMS

• Repair the tennis courts at Union County High School

• The upgrade and replacement of fire alarm systems at UCHS and the Career and Technology Center.

The alarm systems project, which began this spring and was completed this summer, is described by Lawson as being one of those the district must undertake in order to continue using the facilities in question. He said such projects are a prominent part of the lengthy list of infrastructure needs facing the district including:

• The replacement of the cooling tower at UCHS. Lawson said that the cooling tower at UCHS has a life cycle of 15-20 years and is already 15 years old. While the tower is currently functioning, Lawson said its age makes the likelihood of it eventually breaking down a possibility and if that were to happen UCHS and the CATE center would be without HVAC.

• The replacement of plumbing at Lockhart Elementary/Middle School. Lawson said the plumbing at Lockart is made up of galvanized pipe beneath concrete. He said that if those pipes were to fail the district would be facing “considerable expense” in fixing them.

• The repair and replacement of the air conditioning at Buffalo Elementary School and Monarch Elementary School. Lawson pointed out that both schools have individual classroom air conditioning units as well as rooftop units. He said the units at MES are over 35 years old and the ones at BES are nearly 30 years old. Lawson said the age of the units mean there is only a limited supply of replacement parts and that once that supply is exhausted, the current units will have to be replaced with new ones. He said that individual classroom air conditioning units cost approximately $9,000 and that MES alone has 52 classroom units currently in operation.

Lawson said that replacing the air conditioning units at just one of the schools would cost over $500,000. However, he said that unlike the cooling tower at UCHS and the plumbing at Lockhart replacing the air conditioning units would not have to be done all at once. Instead, Lawson said the district could “chip away” at the project by being proactive and routinely allocating funds for it and start working on it.

While these are the district’s imminent infrastructure needs, Lawson said it has many more including the need to upgrade the main power feed at Foster Park Elementary School. He said the school has “maxed out” its power feed and cannot add any more capacity to, for example, provide electricity for additional computers. Lawson said increasing the school’s main power feed would cost approximately $100,000.

Aging mobile classrooms are another infrastructure issue facing the school district. Lawson pointed out that BES, FPES, and MES all use mobile classrooms that date back to the late 1960s or early 1970s. He said the only way these mobile classrooms can be dispensed with is if more footage was added on to the schools.

Lawson said that neither MES nor FPES have gyms or multipurpose rooms for gym class and other indoor school athletic activities or those outdoor ones that would have to held inside when it is raining or snowing. The only way this problem could be addressed is through the construction of such facilities.

While it does have a gym, UCHS has long needed what Lawson described as an “auxiliary gym” to provide needed space for the numerous indoor athletic activities the school offers students. He said an auxiliary gym has long been discussed and would help the school dealing the issues involved in scheduling athletic activities that require the use of gym space as well as the gym classes that take place throughout the day. Addressing this issue would also require new construction.

Lawson said that while the $570,000 the district has on hand from the performance of the general obligation bonds seems like a lot, it could be used up very quickly by one or two of the district’s infrastructure projects.

“We do have some limited funding, but we have an extensive list of facility needs, some of them we will have no choice but to do,” Lawson said. “We have millions of dollars in needs and we can’t avoid replacing things that wear out.”

Charles Warner can be reached at 864-762-4090 or
More than $570,000 in district infrastructure needs

By Charles Warner

Charles Warner can be reached at 864-762-4090 or

Charles Warner can be reached at 864-762-4090 or