By Mike McClure

During last Wednesday’s Laurel School Board meeting, the board approved a certificate of necessity (CN) request for a major capital improvement project at the North Laurel Early Learning Academy (NLELA). If the CN is approved by the state, the state will fund 80 percent of the estimated $34,260,530 project with the school district to raise the other 20 percent, roughly $7 million. 

Laurel Superintendent Dr. Shawn Larrimore said the district’s population has increased by over 30 percent since 2014. The Laurel Middle High School currently has a student population of 1,181, which is 85 percent of the 1,400 student capacity, and Laurel Elementary School is at 95 percent capacity (1,137). As a result, Larrimore asked the Becker Morgan Group to do a feasibility study for a major capital improvement project at NLELA.

According to Larrimore, the current NLELA building could house 18 additional classrooms with 396 elementary school students or two grades if it is brought up to code and renovated. The school is currently using one of three wings for students in pre-K and kindergarten while the other two wings are undeveloped.

“We have the ability to update the rest of that school and save our taxpayers a considerable amount of money if a CN is approved,” said Larrimore.

Brad Hastings of Becker Morgan said that under House Bill 49, passed in 2018, any project over $1 million would have to address issues listed in the bill. This includes upgraded security features throughout the school including: secure vestibule with intercom or video call box; ballistic resistant materials in vestibule, lobby, and office areas used to screen visitors; classroom doors locked from the outside; installation of panic button or intruder alert system capable of being activated from front office and handheld device.

Also included in the NLELA renovation plan is mechanical upgrades such as upgrading the HVAC system in the entire building and adding sprinklers throughout the facility. 

Classroom renovations for wings C and D (currently not in use) would include asbestos abatement and new finishes and ADA restrooms to match wing A (the part that is in use).

Hastings said the project would also entail replacing all exterior doors and windows with new energy efficient windows and doors, replacing the gym roof, renovating the existing gym into two classrooms, building an 8,300 square foot addition for a new gym that would be four times the size of the current gym. The state will require upgraded entrances/sidewalks with the gymnasium addition as well as upgraded stormwater management.

The project would also include adding seven classrooms and the renovation of classrooms to faculty space. Also included in the project are cafeteria roof renovations.

“Without adding the seven classrooms there’s no way we can get two grades in there,” Larrimore said. He added that the district can’t build for future growth (additional grades) with the project.

The total cost of the project would be $34,260,530 ($27,206,690 plus $7,053,840 for the classroom addition). That includes the following costs: DEMA upgrades- $1,201,960; mechanical upgrades- $4,294,035; sprinkler building- $2,789,965; classroom renovations- $7,038,395; window replacement- $2,016,750; new gymnasium- $8,178,920; site work upgrades- $1,149,630; and cafeteria re-roof- $537,035. The renovated building’s total square footage will be 75,200. According to Hastings, building a brand new building would cost over $60 million.

The board voted, 5-0, to approve the certificate of necessity. Becker Morgan will submit it to the state in August. The district will find out in November if it has been approved by the state. If it is, the district will begin holding public meetings. According to Larrimore, the average taxpayer (with home assessed at $150,000) would pay an additional $72 per year in taxes to fund the local share of the project.

Earlier in the meeting, Board Member and Assistant baseball coach Brad Lee spoke about the Laurel varsity baseball team which won a state tournament game for the second year in a row.

“It’s easy to come out on Friday nights (for football) I know because it’s at 7 o’clock, it’s not easy to come out at 4 o’clock on a Tuesday afternoon but if you get a chance to come watch our head coach and our baseball players in action next year I’m going to ask you to do that at least one time because its fun to see the culture change that’s happened with Laurel baseball.”

The board’s reorganization meeting will take place on Wednesday, July 5 while the next regular meeting will be held on Aug. 16.