Brunson Elementary School has been in need of a new school building for some time, say teachers, parents and others aware of the structure’s condition.
A replacement for the school is slated in the coming years through the 2016 bond referendum. But some worry that might be replaced with another school project, when they feel theirs is in dire need of replacement.
The district is asking for input on the new Brunson building tonight at 6 at the school, 155 Hawthorne Road. Parents and the community are invited.
Teachers and parents have noted numerous issues within the building, including mold, windows that do not close properly, HVAC systems that need replacing, leaks in the roof and issues with rodents. Rain has caused problems with standing water outside and around the school campus — with flooding in the past, as well.
“My classroom, there’s mold on the ceiling,” said Holly Say, a first-grade teacher who has been at Brunson for two years. “I have a downstairs classroom where a window does not lock and is also covered in mold. I find mice in my sink a lot of mornings.”
Jan Campbell Wharton, a parent of three who have gone to Brunson, said the diversity of the student body and educational programs in the school are why she’s kept her kids there. But the condition of the building has been an issue the whole time.
“I have heard other parents whose children have asthma or who have serious environmental allergies who have been affected,” she said. “But my children, I’m very lucky that I don’t see that.”
Darrell Walker, assistant superintendent of operations, said the condition of Brunson is one of the worst in the district.
“Based upon talking to our maintenance folks and looking at the condition of the building with them and the work they have to do just to keep things functioning there, it’s probably in the worst condition of any of those 40, 50, 60-year-old buildings we have that hasn’t been in the bond at this point,” he said.
While Walker said there is maintenance work done to tend to these concerns, some of the larger ones, such as newer technology and HVAC replacement, have been held off because there is a new school building coming.
“We haven’t invested a lot of money into that building in the last couple of years just because we knew we were going to, if the bond passed, we were going to be replacing it,” he said. “… We’ve just kind of done what we needed to do to keep it functional and operational for school.”
Voters in 2016 approved the $350 million bond, which includes $27 million for a new Brunson.
The project is currently in the planning process with design work to start in the spring. Construction is currently slated to start in summer 2020 and the new school to be completed in 2022.
The district is looking at two potential pieces of land for the new Brunson, Walker said. One of the challenges with finding new land for the school is that there’s not much open space near the current school in that residential zone.
But the district has been able to narrow it down to two options that Walker said he hopes to share with the school board in closed session soon.
“I do think that this project will move forward as it was predicted to do, and I look forward to giving them a new school and a new fresh look on life a little bit as it relates to the school,” he said.
There’s been some concern in the community that Brunson could be bumped off the 2016 bond to put money toward a new Ashley Academy for Cultural & Global Studies.
The elementary school has $900,000 designated to it from the bond for the design aspect, but nothing else. The district is also looking into land options for Ashley.
At the Jan. 8 Building and Grounds Committee, staff was asked to look into ways the Ashley project could be moved up, potentially from existing bond money for other projects.
This worried many hoping for a new Brunson. But school board member Leah Crowley, who chairs the Building and Grounds Committee, has said in social media posts and on Sunday to the Winston-Salem Journal that funding for Brunson won’t take a backseat to a new Ashley.
“It needs to be replaced, there’s no doubt about that,” she said.
Crowley said one of the big things she’d like to hear at Monday’s meeting is how parents feel about the location of the new school.
“The locations are very limited within that neighborhood, within those neighboring lines, so we’ve just got to see what’s reasonable for people,” she said. “Where could we locate where they would still feel like it’s their school and where their kids are going to get the best education?”
Going forward, Say said they owe it to the students of Brunson to give them a safe place to come to school.
“They spend eight hours a day with us, and the teachers are there countless extra hours,” she said. “And so if we focus so much on their emotional health and their academics, why are we not focusing on the safety of our students as well? And we have not given them a safe learning environment.”