Bleachers a safety concern at Clayton High School

Photo of the bleachers at Clayton High by Robert Richardson/WNCN

CLAYTON, N.C.  (WNCN) — Johnston County Schools have more than $30 million in needs for immediate on-campus repairs and replacements.

The urgent work includes fixing roofs at eight schools as well as demolishing and replacing the bleachers at Clayton High School’s Nixon-Fowler Stadium. An inspection and audit by an independent architect identified the old metal stands as a safety concern.

“They have not been condemned, but that’s something that’s on the radar,” Superintendent Ross Renfrow said.

“We’re not worried. If we were, we would take the necessary steps to reconcile it sooner rather than later.”

Renfrow said fans should not be afraid to use the bleachers. The Comets are undefeated at home this season, and hundreds of students and parents jumped up and down on the metal seats during the team’s most recent game at Clayton, where the team came from behind to defeat county rival South Johnston by a single point.

The superintendent said the seats are okay for use the rest of this season, and he personally went to see the seats after getting the inspection report.

“Pretty rusty under there.  I had on a white shirt the day I was under there, and I came out with a lot of rusty red on me,” he said.

Most of the $30 million the school system plans to request will be for replacing leaky roofs and faulty heating and cooling systems at many schools built in the mid-20th century. Renfrow said focus in recent years was on building new schools instead of maintaining older ones.

Johnston County is the state’s second-fastest growing school system, so when Renfrow became superintendent in March, he asked teachers and principals what they needed.

“There was a sentiment there that there were the haves and have nots. It appears that some of our older facilities have not received the tender loving care that they need in the form of dollars and cents,” he said.

The county traditionally puts a vote on the ballot when it comes to borrowing money for schools, but Johnston County manager Rick Hester said that can only happen in even numbered years. It’s too late for 2016, so the plan is to let voters decide in 2018 how to pay back borrowed funds.

Hester said the county generally pays back loans over an 18 year period. There have been five or six of these referendums since he became county manager in 1999, and he does not think this unusual approach is a risky move.

“These type of projects for schools do not need to be delayed,” Hester said.

“If your roof is leaking, that’s not a very good starting point for educating children.”

The superintendent and the board of education will meet Tuesday afternoon at 2 to discuss the inspector’s audit, proposed repairs, and possible funding. Renfrow and Hester plan to present their request to the North Carolina Local Government Commission later this month. They hope to receive funding by January.

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