7/8/18 Fixing Our Schools

Fixing our schools
Some bond funds are earmarked for classroom renovations at Graham High School.

Photos courtesy of Todd Thorpe

Some bond funds are earmarked for classroom renovations at Graham High School.

Which ABSS schools would get a slice of the $150M bond?
By Jessica Williams The Times-News 7/8/18     
Reprinted with permission.  
Editor’s note: This is the third installment in an ongoing series, The Year of the Bond, that looks at the state of education in Alamance County as officials and voters prepare to decide whether or not to invest in $189 million in school bonds.

The classrooms at Cummings High School are in need of upgrades.  
The classrooms at Cummings High School are in need of upgrades.  

If the 60-year-old terracotta tiles on the bathroom walls at Southern Alamance High School could talk, they might tell you to vote “yes” on school bonds.

In the previous two installments of the Times-News’ series “The Year of the Bond,” we laid out the intangible ways the Alamance-Burlington School System’s $150 million bond would affect schools if it passes Tuesday, Nov. 6.

Now it’s time to talk about facilities.

Broken down, $70 million would construct a new high school, and $80 million is slated for renovations and additions to existing schools.

So, what does that mean?

Here are the schools that will receive money from the bond:

Southern Alamance High School
would receive the largest piece of the pie — $20,661,931 — for the demolition of two buildings (a total of 16 classrooms), which will then be replaced with an additional six classrooms, five science labs and three resource rooms. The funds also would enlarge the cafeteria and renovate existing buildings. This would increase the school’s capacity from 1,100 to 1,500 students.

Western Alamance High School
would receive $12,400,611 to add four classrooms, two science labs, one Career and Technical Education lab, two resource rooms and two exceptional children classrooms, enlarge the cafeteria and renovate existing buildings. This would increase Western’s capacity to 1,250 students.

Eastern Alamance High School
would receive $11,657,249 to add four classrooms, one resource room and two exceptional children classrooms, enlarge the cafeteria and renovate existing buildings. This would increase Eastern’s capacity to 1,250 students.

Cummings High School
would receive $10,867,063 for an auditorium lobby addition, renovating existing buildings and funding a new arts curriculum.

South Mebane Elementary School
would receive $8,482,880 to update the front entrance, add 16 classrooms, add a new kitchen and dining expansion, and renovate existing buildings.

Graham High School
would receive $7,619,063 to renovate existing buildings and fund the Career and Technical Education curriculum.

Pleasant Grove Elementary School
would receive $6,474,192 for renovations.

Williams High School
would receive $4,646,400 to remove and replace the auditorium seating and renovate portions of the existing building.

‘Renovations to existing buildings’

Planned renovations for the eight schools include:

  • Window and door replacement;
  • Removing lockers;
  • Roof and ceiling repairs;
  • Renovating restrooms and installing new plumbing fixtures;
  • Replacing canopies;
  • Upgrading HVAC;
  • Stabilizing eroding slopes;
  • Widening walkways;
  • Replacing damaged flooring; and
  • Updating entrances and hardware so they are compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

To get a little more specific, let’s look at some of the major issues at Southern Alamance High School and how the bond would address them.

Lack of travel space

With 1,500 kids on a campus that can accommodate 1,100, Southern is the district’s most crowded high school.

Built in 1960, the Florida-style campus houses multiple separate buildings with outdoor walkways covered by canopies.

These narrow walkways quickly become clogged during class changes, leaving teachers to spend the first 10 minutes of each class period waiting for students to make their way through the crowds.

Though temporary expansions have been added over the years, Assistant Superintendent for Operations Todd Thorpe is eager to provide a permanent solution to the problem.

“One of the big issues we’re running into with our old schools, especially our Florida-style schools, is the canopy that runs down through the middle,” Thorpe said. “With a canopy, you’ve got the center post here. It was a great design during its day, but nowadays it’s taking up space. Also, because of the narrowness you have a narrow sidewalk. So now we’re trying to put more kids down the sidewalk than it was designed for. With the renovations, we’ll be able to remove all of these canopies, be able to expand the sidewalks, and be able to create a canopy … that is wide open, that is wider so more students can move in and it’s more accessible for [the Americans with Disabilities Act] as well as regular students traveling throughout the school.”

Crowded lunches

Southern’s cafeteria can accommodate only 325 of the 380 students eating during each of the school’s four 25-minute lunch periods, leaving many to eat outside in the heat or on the floor in the hallways.

Ideally, there would be two 45-minute lunches or three 30-minute lunches with five-minute breaks between for cafeteria workers to prepare for the next batch of students.

Right now, most of the students’ lunch periods are taken up with standing in line.

Thorpe says the expansion of the cafeteria is one of the most needed, and anticipated, projects for the school, and it won’t be possible without bond money.

Lack of classrooms

The demolition of two buildings and addition of 14 rooms is responsible for the high cost of the bond work to be done at Southern, but it would provide much-needed classroom space.

Because regulations require a mobile classroom (colloquially known as a trailer) to be within 200 feet of a restroom, the school has only one.

As a result, Principal Teresa Faucette seeks classroom space anywhere and everywhere, including the media center and the field house, and many teachers travel from room to room without a designated space of their own.

“Right now I think [Faucette] has got 10 or 12 teachers who share classrooms,” Thorpe said. “So they’ll no longer have to share classrooms and not only will students have their own space, teachers will have their own space.”


The demolition of those two buildings also would help address another major issue: safety.

In the aftermath of recent school shootings, where, when and how a visitor can access campus has been a major concern for ABSS high schools, but the layout of a Florida-style campus can make it difficult to control that access.

Thorpe says the construction of a new, larger building in place of the two older buildings would allow the school to limit some access, but not all.

“With this particular setup, with the removal of the buildings, it’s going to put a solid building in the front of the school so it’s going to cut down on some access to the school. Now, that’s not going to be able to happen at all of our schools, but for this particular one it will cut down some access,” Thorpe said. “But one thing that was not proposed by the architect that I’m going to propose as we meet is to upgrade, one, our camera systems. They’re getting some age on them. And also some of the safety features we’ve talked about in meetings, to incorporate them as much as possible throughout the buildings to create a safer campus.”

If the bond passes, Thorpe says, there will be an opportunity for input from students, staff and the community before any plans are set in stone.

Lockers eating
up space

Inside the buildings that would remain, rows of empty lockers that have been abandoned by students who no longer have a use for them take up valuable hallway space.

“A lot of textbooks now are online,” Thorpe said. “A lot of their resources are online. And, you know, they have four classes, and a lot of times there may only be a book for one or two classes, so it’s easier for them to carry their book than it would be to try and take five minutes to go across campus, get in the locker and leave.”

While removing lockers might seem like a simple and cheap fix, it isn’t.

Once the lockers are removed, the walls behind them have to be refinished, and the bump-out slabs the lockers sit on have to be ground out of the floor.

“It’s an expensive process because of the clean-up work, the cosmetic work,” Thorpe said.


The cleanliness of school bathrooms is something widely talked about at all ABSS high schools, but Southern’s issues are exacerbated by the number of students using them.

The school system is required to have a certain number of toilets per number of students. Right now, that quota is not being met.

“There are two things you hear right now: one is there’s not enough toilets, and they’re exactly right for this type of number,” Thorpe said. “And two, [people] talk about the cleanliness of bathrooms, but when you’ve got more people using the bathroom than it’s designed for, it has a tendency to become messed up quicker. So hopefully that will fix a lot of their issues.”

There’s also the fact that the tile, toilets and sinks in the bathrooms were installed when John F. Kennedy was president. It’s time for an update.

But, like removing lockers, installing new plumbing is not cheap.

“No one’s going to see the $30,000–$40,000 worth of work done in the ground, putting the sewer lines and water lines in, but it’s part of what has to happen,” Thorpe said.

That’s the case with a lot of the needed renovations. They’re expensive and, once finished, will make the schools functional, not fancy.

The new high school

That leaves one important question: Will the renovations be enough to make the existing schools equal to the new high school?

Equity has been a priority for ABSS over the last four years.

If the bond passes, it means a $70 million brand new high school would be constructed between Southern and Eastern, alleviating overcrowding at both by redistricting some students to the new school.

But would renovations at Southern and Eastern — and the other four high schools — be enough to make them equal to the new school? Or is there going to be a stark difference between them?

“The renovations at the high schools are going to make them much more functional,” Thorpe said. “It’s going to give the teachers and students new classrooms, new spaces, new cafeterias, new common spaces, those types of things. You can’t compare a new school to an old school. I mean, a new school is going to have everything new. … Some folks will, by choice, like being an older school because of the architectural design and the history of the school, and then some are going to really want to be at the new school because of its newer, modern design. But as far as the functionality of the old schools and the new school, they’ll all be the same.”

COMING IN PART FOUR: See what the new high school might look like, where it could be constructed, and how building a high school today differs from building a high school in 1960.