Board of Supervisors hear from county school district about repairs to offices

Published 10:16 pm Saturday, July 28, 2007

The Pearl River County Board of Supervisors heard from Pearl River County School Superintendent Dennis Penton and the Pearl River County School Board about the repairs to the district’s office building in Carriere during the supervisor’s meeting Friday.

Penton told the board that while he had been told he would be kept in the loop on the decisions of the Federal Emergency Management Agency regarding the building, he was never notified of FEMA’s final decision. Penton said that the last time he had walked through the building with FEMA, he had been under the impression there was a “quantum shift” in FEMA’s ideas.

“I feel the decision should have been appealed again,” Penton said.

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District IV Supervisor Robert Thigpen said it was his understanding that Penton would be at the meeting when FEMA came back with the decision.

Penton said he did not find out about the meeting until afterward it was held when he contacted County Administrator Adrain Lumpkin. By that point, the contract had already been awarded to Hensley Lee and repair work had begun.

Penton said his biggest concern is that the county is spending the money to repair the buildings, and when the repairs are finished, the buildings still will not be in suitable condition.

“My issue is we’re going to spend $98,000 on a building that was appraised at $145,000 with the land, and after we spend the $98,000 we still won’t have anything,” Penton said.

District III Supervisor Larry Davis asked what FEMA’s inspectors had said the total damage on the building would be and whether FEMA had done mold testing or not.

Lumpkin said FEMA has examined the building twice, and on the second time through, FEMA said they would add a few more sheets of paneling to the scope of work, but that the building was not damaged enough to meet FEMA’s 50 percent criteria. Lumpkin said for FEMA to consider a building to be more than 50 percent damaged, the repair estimate would need to be 50 percent or more of the cost of building the same building today.

“The repair estimate is more than 50 percent of the appraised value, but that is not the way FEMA figures the 50 percent rule,” Lumpkin said.

As for the mold testing, Lumpkin said FEMA has not given him anything in writing yet, but FEMA told him over the phone that the mold in the building was not toxic.

Penton argued that the $98,000 estimate from FEMA does not cover the complete cost of repair.

“It does not cover electrical work, mold remediation, et cetera. If we had all the issues covered that it will take to completely repair the building, I’m sure it would be over the 50 percent requirement. When they finish this contract, we still are not going to have buildings adequate for me to put people back into,” Penton said.

“The fact of the matter is, I toured the building with (Penton) before Katrina, and it was over a 50 percent loss then. This is one of the fastest growing school systems in this state, and we have to do something about this,” Thigpen said. “I say we repair these buildings, sell them, and use the money to build them an office on their campus.”

District I Supervisor Anthony Hales disagreed, saying, “There’s nothing you can do to these buildings that will satisfy him (Penton). I’m saying the law says to provide him with an office. You can expand on it or you can do what you want to do with it. We could put them in a safe double-wide trailer if we wanted.”

At that point, Penton provided the board a copy of the state attorney general’s opinion that had been requested earlier in the year.

“Everybody that reads that (opinion) is going to interpret in different ways,” Hales said. “You’re asking me to take the taxpayers’ money, of taxpayers that are not in the PRC school district, to build an office for the (PRC) superintendent.”

“My position is … if you want to remediate these buildings, that’s fine. If we remediate them to a level that is acceptable to public use. I just don’t want them any worse than they were before the storm,” Penton said. “On behalf of the school board, we sent everything we had to Benchmark (the county’s architects), FEMA and MEMA so they would have it. … We thought we had made our case and the next thing I know, an order to proceed had been issued.”

Davis said he believes that FEMA, MEMA, Benchmark, Penton and the school district’s architects need to all sit down and discuss things, because he thinks something was missed along the way.

“Right now, where I’m looking at this thing is, I think we better back up and let FEMA, Benchmark and your guys talk because there is money out here. We have a pile of buildings that need to be redone and we’re still fighting. We need to get everyone on the same page,” he said

Hales still disagreed, saying, “Who decides what’s adequate (for the superintendent)? The board of supervisors or the school board? We can’t sit here and change laws and sling money here and there because that’s our desire. We set precedents with our decisions. I still think we are stretching this law way farther than what it actually says. I don’t feel right about it. I don’t feel comfortable with it. I think we need to provide a safe space, but are we going to far with what we are promising?”

“The point is, if this board decides to remediate those buildings, we want them remediated to an acceptable level. If you choose not to do that, we’re requesting that you provide adequate, safe office space,” Penton said.

“The first thing we need to do is stop the work that’s proceeding right now, and we never need to have a meeting that (Penton) is not there. What we will do is set up a meeting with these people and notify them so they have time to be there,” Thigpen said. “Let’s keep everybody informed.”

The board of supervisors decided to ask Hensley Lee to stop work on the buildings until further discussions could take place.

Rebecca Hartfield of the South Mississippi Children’s Center asked the board to be considered for it’s contributions budget. The center, located at an undisclosed location, houses teens and youth that are abused, neglected, runaway or homeless. The cost per child for the facility is approximately $139 a day, with $55 of that paid by the Department of Human Services, which uses the center to house children until appropriate foster homes can be found.

Jennifer Adams again requested that Lake Angie Drive be taken in as a county road. Adams said she has already gone to the PRC school board requesting it be made a bus turnaround, and has had no progress there.

Davis said he would like to take the road in, but that a turnaround must be put at the end of the road, and a legal description of the road must be provided to the supervisors.

The board also accepted bids to replace a bridge on West Union Road and for the placing of signs and restriping of some roads in the county. The bridge bid went to Buford Construction Company which had the lowest bid at $358,658.51. The striping and signing bid went to Robbie Robinson, with the low bid of $132,593.38.

In other business, the board:

— Acknowledged receipt of a notice about overcrowding in the county jail.

— Accepted Malone Corp. Invoice 6 of $23,295.60 and authorized payment.

— Acknowledged receipt of electricity bill from Church of the Way for $5,075.01 for three-months.

— Accepted Huey Stockstill Invoice 1 of $829,139.08 for FEMA road repairs and authorized payment when funds become available.

— Authorized president to sign Hazard Mitigation Grant Program Agreement for warning sirens at Nicholson Elementary, Picayune South Side Elementary, Picayune West Side Elementary, Roseland Park Elementary, Wal-Mart area, Picayune Alternative School, Pearl River Central High School, Pearl River Center Elementary School in McNeill, Poplarville Upper Elementary, Poplarville High School and Pearl River Community College. The siren at PRCC is in place and working.

The board adjourned until 9 a.m. Monday, Aug. 6.A juvenile was reported to have been raped during a home invasion where some items were stolen.