North Carolina school districts face rising facility costs amid aging buildings

Public school districts across North Carolina are estimated to need $12.8 billion for facility needs over the next five years.

This need has increased by more than $4 billion since the last time the state surveyed districts in 2015.

"This is the greatest pain that is being reported, it's the most urgent needs, the most critical, top of the list priority," said Nathan Maune, NCDPI section chief for school planning during the presentation of the report at last week's State Board of Education meeting.

Almost half of the anticipated costs stem from the deferred maintenance and repairs need to renovate school buildings across the state.

"By far, the most cited reason for all projects were depreciation and deferred maintenance. The need to address issues of building code and life safety deficiencies, and the need to replace obsolete facilities were also significant issues," the report said.

HVAC, plumbing and electrical needs accounted for a quarter of the renovation needs at $1.3 billion.

"Renovations are needed for a variety of reasons, but the most prevalent justification was to compensate for depreciation and deferred maintenance. The highest dollar-value of renovation need was for heating and air conditioning work," the report said.

Joe Desormeaux, the associate superintendent of auxiliary services at Cumberland County Schools, said the average age for the district's buildings is 54 years old.

"Facilities continue to keep getting older and the money is not really being spent to try to keep up with them," Desormeaux said.

He said if these needs go unaddressed it will impact students.

"It becomes disruptions and distractions in the classroom, the temperatures get too high, or the carpet starts wearing thin and unraveling, or floor tiles start coming up, and they all become distractions to the learning environments instead of the students focusing on what's going on," Desormeaux said.

Another common need included new buildings, additions.

More than half of the $12.8 billion is for construction and additions. Since 2015, the cost of construction has risen, leading to an uptick in anticipated costs for new buildings.

The state estimates the state will need 131 new schools and 312 schools will need renovations over the next five years.

The $12.8 billion is what school districts self-reported but state education officials believe the true need is greater.

"We know that there is more than this and we believe that is the case in almost every district," said Maune during last week's State Board of Education meeting.

The state lottery funds and local bonds generate enough for a third of the costs. During last week's meeting education officials pointed to large disparities between districts' access to bond money through referendums.

The Cumberland County School district's needs have increased by more than 300% since 2015. A majority of the anticipated costs stemming from anticipated renovations. Desormeaux explained a large factor behind the increase was the way the district did its assessment of needs this time around.

"I think originally it was a lot more, it was more conservative and was trying to tie along to whatever they thought they could fund at the time," he said.

Desormeaux said the district is working on developing a multi-year capital improvement plan to present to county leaders but he doesn't anticipate all these needs to be funded.

"You can't make up what's been going on for 20 years in five years," Desormeaux said. "If we can try to break even each year that would be great, you know, take care of just as much as what's getting older, that would be a great target to work with."

In Wake County, the school district anticipates its facilities will need $1.1 billion over the next few years with most of the needs dedicated to renovating buildings.

Durham County Public School officials identified nearly $500 million worth of needs, an increase of more than $300 million since 2015. Seventy-five percent of Durham's funding is needed for building new schools.

Find a full list of anticipated needs here: https://simbli.eboardsolutions.com/Meetings/Attachment.aspx?S=10399&AID=275569&MID=9594

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