NP renovations

Published 12:00 am Friday, May 20, 2011

Bathrooms trump auditorium at NP

By Billy Davis

North Panola conservator Robert King said Monday he plans to use monies from school improvement bonds to replace outdated bathrooms at North Panola Junior High.  

King acknowledged to school board members that he chose the junior high construction over air conditioning the auditorium at North Panola High.

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“There’s so many needs in the district I wish I could do them all,” said King, who was attending his second school board meeting as conservator.

At North Panola High, located in Sardis, classrooms use window units while the school auditorium is uncooled.

Work is under way to put central heat and air in the remainder of the school, according to King.

The junior high bathrooms in Como have never been updated and will likely undergo major renovation, King told the Panolian after the meeting.

“My inclination is to try to do something for the children,” King, apparently referring to younger students, said at the school board meeting. “But I know it gets hot (in the auditorium).”

Dropping the auditorium project is the only change following capital improvement plans by former conservator Dr. Oscar Love.

Adding central heat and air, renovating science classrooms, and adding public toilets at the gymnasium are still planned at the high school, according to King.

A story in The Southern Reporter this week erroneously reported King had dropped any renovation plans at the high school to spend monies on the junior high.

The new conservator said he planned to send letters home with students to correct the newspaper story.

After Monday’s school board meeting, King told The Panolian he was asked by Miss. Department of Education officials which project — high school or junior high — he wanted to invest construction funds, “and we made a joint decision about what to do,” he said.

King evidently meant he and state officials agreed to transfer monies from the high school auditorium project to the junior high bathroom renovation.

North Panola has been under control of the Miss. Department of Education since 2008, when struggling student achievement triggered the state takeover.

King, who is retired from the Oxford school district, became the school district’s fourth conservator when he began work in April.

Dr. Oscar Love, the district’s third conservator, had sought $2.2 million in school improvement bonds last year to improve infrastructure in the cash-strapped school district.

Love had said he intended to spend funds at the high school, which he described as the “centerpiece” of the district when he was introduced 11 months ago as the third conservator.

But King deflected a reporter’s question about whether his infrastructure priorities varied from Love’s stated priorities.  

“It boils down to what’s best for children,” King said instead.

North Panola trustees had approved Love’s school bond plan last September, which included a three-mill increase to pay back the bonds from increased property tax revenues.

King also reminded school board members Monday that ongoing construction work in the school district is set to be completed by December. When that work is completed, it could free more district funds for other infrastructure improvements, he said.  

“Are there other sources to pay for the air?” asked school board member Tracy Thompson.

Finance officer Levette Upshaw had looked for more district funds, King replied, “and we did not have the money.”

The central air for the auditorium would cost “just under” $200,000, King said, replying to a question from school board member Lasha Hunter.

King told The Panolian the bathroom improvements at Como Junior High are expected to gobble up most of the available funds.

Regarding any leftover funds, he said the school district has failed to fix some infrastructure problems that were discovered during a 2006 “facility audit” by Department of Education officials.

One of those improvements, replacing a single window in each classroom throughout the district, is meant to ensure students have a second avenue of escape in a school building fire.