Foundation problems at SSHS linked to moisture beneath the building; source yet to be determined
Faith Huffman | News-Telegram News Editor

Sept. 13, 2005 -- The structural foundation problems at Sulphur Springs High School are due to moisture under the building, but engineers examining the problem have yet to determine whether that moisture is from ground water or tap water, Director of Plant Operations Dale Guest said Monday during the regular school board meeting.

Over the past two years, the high school’s foundation and structural problems have been evaluated and assessed by Estes McClure and Associates and Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates Inc. The engineers determined that the building is still moving about half an inch each year due to moisture and water under the building. A test utilizing a ball filled with water in the sewer lines showed no leaks for 48 hours, indicating the difficulty to be either form tap or ground water. 

Holes 4 inches in diameter were drilled at various locations, and three of the four holes began filling with water almost immediately. Tests turned up no indications of chlorine in the water, which could mean the water originates from the ground and not difficulties in piping of city water. However, it is possible for small amounts of chlorine in water to leak or evaporate out of the water, according to Guest.

�We know there�s moisture under there causing structural problems. Once we fix the water problem, we will go back and repair the structure,� Superintendent Patsy Bolton said.

Guest said that one possible plan discussed to correct the problem would be in the installation of French drains around the building to drain the water and a pump. However, all plans for repair will be put on hold until the source of the water is positively identified.

The foundation also has some small to moderate sized cracks which effect the tiles or flooring above them, as well as the outer structure of the building.

Since repairs, renovations and additions at the high school are the main reason board members have called for a bond election, local residents Bernice Fitzgerald and Dale McMahan expressed concerns during the meeting regarding the structural foundation difficulties, and how they would be addressed and at what cost through the bond.

Fitzgerald questioned whether the board intended to fix the structure/foundation problem at SSHS correctly before any payment would be made for it.

�I think we learned a lesson with the football field, and will fix the problem before repairs,� board member Carolyn Thomas assured her.

�I don�t think any of us are opposed to fixing the school,� Fitzgerald said.

During public forum discussion on the tax rate, which the board will vote on during a special noon meeting on Thursday, SSISD Tax Collector Judy Gregg and Director of Finance Miki Eddins explained how the tax rate is utilized and the current indebtedness of the district.

The proposed tax rate remains  at $1.50465 per $100 of property value. That rate consists of two parts: a maintenance and operations tax, which essentially covers the daily expenses of running the district, and an interest and sinking rate, also known as debt service. Gregg explained that $1.4255 of the overall school tax goes toward maintenance and operations, while the remaining portion is used to pay district debts.

Eddins said the district’s overall debt was $6.915 million which includes a $3.215 million principal paid from the I&S revenues and $3.7 million from M&O. The $3.7 million “are funds borrowed in the past for upkeep” of existing facilities over the course of the last six years. The remaining debt is left over from the last bond election held prior to the construction of Early Childhood Learning Center about 10 years ago.

In the bond proposal to be voted on next month, voters will be asked to consider two propositions: $9.93 million to finance renovation, repairs and additions at SSHS; and $3.64 million to refinance existing debt. This proposition would allow the board to issue bonds for re-funding all or a portion of the district’s tax and revenue notes, series 2000 and 2003, “with said bond to mature, bear interest, and be issued and sold in accordance with law at the time of issuance,” according to the bond order.

Bob Woods expressed concern about a letter sent to 1,700 senior citizens by the superintendent regarding the upcoming bond election, and whether it violates state regulations regarding partisan distribution of information about the topic by school officials, personnel or trustees using school time and resources.

In other business Monday, trustees approved teacher appraisers and a teacher appraisal calender, as well as a class size waiver so that Lamar and Austin Elementary schools be allowed to have two extra students in one third grade class each this semester.

The waivers are based on student populations outside of the additional students enrolled who had to leave their homes because of Hurricane Katrina. The district’s enrollment figures do not include the 58 students displaced from Louisiana who had enrolled in the district as of Monday, as state class size guidelines have been waived for these students, District Director of Elementary Education Connie Mabe said. Ten additional hurricane evacuees are being bused to other schools weekdays to help eliminate crowding in Sulphur Springs schools. North Hopkins and Sulphur Bluff officials contacted SSISD officials to advise they could accommodate students as needed. Six students are attending North Hopkins school and four are at Sulphur Bluff. The children are bused to FM 71 east, where buses from each school pick up the students accordingly, according to Bolton.

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