Last updated: April 02. 2014 2:16PM - 937 Views
Valerie Newton Special to the Journal

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ELIZABETHTOWN – Approval by the voters of the May 6 Sales and Use Tax Referendum to pay for renovations and repairs to Bladen County Schools is about ensuring a high quality learning environment for students.

Voters will have the opportunity to positively affect Bladen County students, who are more deeply intertwined with technology and interactive, hands-on learning than any previous group of students.

“We want to provide a quality education system in Bladen County,” Superintendent Robert Taylor said. “Updating our schools for current and future generations of students will involve more than changing what goes on in schools; it will require us to rethink school buildings themselves.”

Generally, about 35 percent of that tax is paid by visitors to Bladen County. If approved, the one-fourth of one penny sales tax increase will become effective Oct. 1, bringing the total sales tax rate to seven percent; 4.75 percent of state tax and 2.25 percent of local tax. On a $4 purchase, that means one additional penny of cost to the buyer. Over a year’s time and with average annual purchases of $10,000 per person, that means an additional $25 to the buyer or approximately $2 per month.

The revenue generated from the increase will be used for capital improvements such as renovation, repair and modest upgrade needs of 11 schools.

The ballot question is simple yet does not directly state that the referendum is earmarked for school renovations and repairs: “Local Sales and Use Tax at the rate of one-fourth of one penny (0.25%) in addition to all other State and Local Sales and Use Taxes.” Each voter may mark his ballot “For the one-fourth cent sales tax” or “Against the one-fourth cent sales tax.”

In this article we’re featuring two more schools, Booker T. Washington Primary and Elizabethtown Middle and some of the facility needs that exist at these schools. While we will discuss each school’s condition individually, consistencies across Bladen County show that out-dated infrastructure, non-efficient, failing external structures, and lack of high-performance operations are found in all the schools.

— Booker T. Washington is pre-kindergarten through fifth-grade school with approximately 218 students currently enrolled. The school has the third smallest student population in the county.

In 1988 the school population was at its highest with approximately 394 students and 22 full-time teachers. Beginning in 1998 the school population began to decline yearly, with an average decrease of 12 students per year and currently employs 13.5 full-time teachers. Contributing factors such as the opening of several nearby charter schools and an aging population are cited as reasons for the decrease in enrollment.

In 1947 the first building of the school was built, which is currently the upper grades wing, with a total of 8,908 square feet to accommodate approximately 150 students.

A new cafeteria, kitchen, media center and eight additional classrooms were added in 1957 with a total of 18,000 square feet to accommodate an additional 150 students.

Approximately 22 years later in 1972, the school added its current office, guidance and computer lab wing, for another 2,470 square feet. This wing at the time included two small classrooms that could accommodate 20 students.

Classrooms in the original building still function with the original electrical infrastructure and electrical outlets. During the late 40’s classrooms were not designed with more than two electrical outlets; one to plug-in a record player and one unused. Computers did not exist, manual typewriters were used, overhead projectors and SmartBoards did not exist so there was not a need for more than two outlets in a classroom.

Today, classrooms at Booker T. Washington are on electrical circuit overload. Teachers and students are daily using computers, laptops, iPads, overhead projectors, SmartBoards, and other types of technology that require electricity. With only two outlets available in each classroom, extension cords and powerstrips are everywhere. Mobile carts with electrical plug-ins are utilized to support technology usage. Teachers must be creative in the use of electricity and technology so as not to create a circuit overload. It’s not unusual for a circuit breaker to kick-out if too many teachers are plugged-in at the same time.

Another concern is the outdated, inefficient HVAC window units in the media center. These were added sometime in the late 1960’s and are still being used today. In 2010, one new 13 SEER HVAC unit was installed in the media center to replace one of the three original window units that had quit working. The remaining two units are still being used.

With out-dated infrastructure and lack of high-performance operations, the school facilities function at a low-level rate of efficiency.

— Elizabethtown Middle is a fifth- through eighth-grade school with approximately 380 students currently enrolled. The school as it sits today was built in 1971 after consolidation of Bladen Central High School with Elizabethtown High School. The total square footage including the gym is more than 125,000 square feet.

According to historical records found online, Bladen Central High School consolidated with Elizabethtown High School in 1971 and for that one year they were known as the Elizabethtown Cougars.

In 1972, Elizabethtown High School, White Oak High School and East Arcadia High School were consolidated and became the East Bladen High School Cougars. The high school opened in a new building, which is the current Elizabethtown Middle School, and the old Elizabethtown High School became East Bladen Middle School.

1992 brought the closure of Clarkton High School. Most of the students transferred to Bladenboro High School, and a few moved to East Bladen.

In 2001, Bladen County built two new high school buildings, with East Bladen moving into one of them. Bladenboro High School and Tar Heel High School were converted to middle schools. Some of the students from these two high schools were transferred to East Bladen High School, but the majority went to the newly constructed West Bladen High School.

West Bladen became the Knights and the East Bladen Cougars changed their mascot to the Eagles. Due to construction delays, the West Bladen building wasn’t completed until 2002. West Bladen students attended classes in their old high schools.

The old East Bladen High School building became Elizabethtown Middle School and the old Elizabethtown High School building was demolished to make way for the new Elizabethtown Municipal Building. The old Elizabethtown High School gym still stands behind the Municipal building.

In 1977, Elizabethtown Middle School constructed the gymnasium and band room which is still being used today. Over the next 10 or so years, the school added additional athletic venues such as track, football/baseball/softball fields, ticket booth, concession stand, and field house.

Although the original building itself is not that old, the school has experienced a lot of use from both the students and the community. Carpet originally installed when the building was built is still laying in the media center and the band room. The legacy that Ray Haney created with the East Bladen High School band is hidden under years of dirt, wear, and tear. The restrooms throughout the school are original and have not received any upgrades. One bathroom in particular on a back hallway of the main building is largely rusted out. The metal ceiling tile strips and the framework around the stalls along with metal fixtures are corroded with rust.

The roof over the Occupational wing, which is a Polyiso spray foam material and is the original roof from 1971, has been patched and band-aided to the point of needed to be completely replaced. Whenever a heavy rain comes through the area, roof and ceiling lacks in the Occupational wing require buckets be placed in classrooms to capture the rainwater.

As in all the other schools in the county, Elizabethtown Middle was built to support limited electrical infrastructure and technology devices such as a record player. Even overhead projectors didn’t come onto the market until the early 1980’s. Like Booker T. Washington, extension cords and powerstrips can be found throughout the building. Electrical outlets are in high demand at the school.

The fourth article in this series will feature Plain View Primary, a pre-kindergarten through fourth-grade school, and Bladenboro Middle, a fifth- through eighth-grade school.

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