Sampson Community College’s Activities Center, a 200-seat auditorium used not only by the college but by many community groups, is closed until further notice while mold and water infiltration issues are abated — that will be a costly prospect, and county and SCC officials are already working toward a solution.
The Sampson Board of Commissioners previously allocated $336,716 to the college for roof replacements for the Technology and Activities Center buildings and a contract for the roofing job was recently awarded by the SCC Board of Trustees to Curtis Construction Company of Kinston totaling $263,131.
College officials, speaking to county commissioners this week, said that was far below what was anticipated, leaving some funds on the table. However, they said those funds — and much more — would be needed to fix problems with the ductwork and rooftop unit of the Activities Center, identified as part of the roof project.
“The Activities Center showed continuing signs of mold growth over the summer and during the sustained rain, rust and further deterioration was noted in ductwork,” SCC president Dr. Paul Hutchins said. “We were beginning to see mold on the walls, mold on the ceiling tiles and we felt like we needed to do some further due diligence to see if we had other problems in that building in addition to the roof being repaired.”
The college spent $14,964 to contract with JKF Architects to identify the possibility of through-wall flashing (weatherproofing) issues and a poor performing mechanical system that may have combined to contribute to high building humidity and mold growth, Hutchins explained. The architect estimated that the cost to repair a flashing problem, notably removing the brick, repairing the problem and restoring the wall, would be $15,459, for a total of $30,423.
When added to the cost of the bid, that would leave $43,162 remaining from the original allocation.
Mechanical firm Progressive Design Collaborative, brought in by JKF once the issues were identified, noted concerns with the existing ductwork and rooftop unit operation and recommended the replacement of the entire mechanical (HVAC) system and that a testing agency verify the building was clean, which would come at an estimated cost of $433,755.
Hutchins and Dr. Bill Starling, SCC’s vice president of administration, requested that the $43,162 balance be made available for flashing repair and for the mechanical system overhaul.
“It will probably take the spring to design the mechanical work and exterminate the mold,” said Starling. “At that time, we would anticipate coming back to the Board of Commissioners and requesting the full amount of money to complete the entire renovation of the mechanical system and the restoration of the building.”
Starling said it was a multiple-pronged issue — roof failure, a flashing failure and a mechanical system that was not probably not adequately designed to dehumidify the space.
“Those were three things working against us at one time,” Starling noted. “For the last two years, we have run the mechanical system 24/7 to try to bring the building humidity down, and that has not been successful.”
He noted that many in the general public, notably those with upper respiratory issues, asthma or severe allergies, would react “fairly quickly and adversely” upon being in the auditorium.
“I can’t say that it poses an immediate health hazard, but it certainly is an uncomfortable situation and, for some, does pose a health challenge,” said Starling.
Commissioner Albert Kirby said he visited the Activities Center and said the smell was “quite noticeable,” while noting that “clearly the roof was compromised.”
“At this time, the building is not usable,” said Starling. “It’s unavailable for the public’s use and for the college’s use. Based on the engineer’s observations, we would recommend that we continue to do that until the building is completely abated of mold. We’ll know a whole lot more when the testing company comes in and confirms the extent of the mold.”
Kirby made a motion that the balance be able to be used by the college toward abating other issues. The motion was seconded by Commissioner Harry Parker.
“I’m from the old school .. just because you got doesn’t mean you have to spend it,” said Commissioner Billy Lockamy, “but in this case, we’ve already awarded it and there’s definitely a need for it.”
The request received unanimous approval.
The Activities Center is not used solely by the college, but there are other classes and activities held there. From May 2012 to August 2013, many community groups and civic organizations utilized the 200-seat auditorium, Hutchins noted.
“It not only impacts our ability to function as a community college,” the college president said, “but it affects the community’s ability to use that building.”
“It’s a perfect storm when it comes to calamities,” said Kirby. “It’s a setback if you can’t use that. I’ve been there for a number of occasions and it’s very nice. It’s a dilemma.”
Hutchins did deliver good news to the board, noting the recent on-site visit from the accreditation team in October. The result of the visit was positive.
“That committee recommended, without any recommendations of anything we needed to modify, that the college’s accreditation be reaffirmed,” Hutchins said. “That will happen next June.”
For the time being, Hutchins and Starling said they were thankful that the bids for the roof work came in as low as they did, offering some much-needed funding for another necessary maintenance project. County manager Ed Causey said the best options on how to budget $400,000 would have to be discussed by the board in the coming months. He said the amount would likely have to be split into two separate budgets.
Hutchins expressed his gratitude to the board for its assistance leading up to October’s on-site visit and said he was aware that large maintenance issues put the college and the county board in a precarious position.
“We are aware of the challenges that this amount places upon the county and the ability of the Board of Commissioners to immediately appropriate these funds,” Hutchins said. “We request any funds remaining from budgeted funds for the roofs be available for the immediate repair of the flashing and for the mechanical system design. This would allow us to be ready to bid when adequate funds are available.”
The building will remain closed until all work is completed and a testing agency has determined that the space is suitable for occupancy.
“I regret that these building issues have presented themselves,” said Hutchins. “The loss of the auditorium poses an ongoing challenge for the college and for a number of community groups that often used the Activity Center for their meetings.”
Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.