The Oak Ridge City Council has agreed to use $150,000 in red-light camera money to repair the lead-based paint on the city’s Preschool, providing what officials hope will be a temporary fix while they develop a plan to permanently repair, replace, or move the Preschool.
The repairs, which could be done by August 3, were approved in a 6-0 vote. Oak Ridge City Council member Rick Chinn abstained because a family member owns a building on Mitchell Road that the city and schools could consider leasing.
The City Council also endorsed a recommendation from the Oak Ridge Board of Education that could have children in a new building by the 2016-2017 school year. That resolution calls for further study of options for the Oak Ridge Preschools and Robert J. Smallridge School Administration Building on New York Avenue. It also would set up a joint city-schools committee, consider buying the Oak Ridge Chamber of Commerce building for school administration offices, and remodel the G Building at Oak Ridge High School.
Officials say the Preschool building needs to be renovated or vacated for the Head Start program to receive federal funding in the 2015-2016 school year. They are hopeful that their plan to fix the lead-based paint on the decades-old home of the Preschool by early August will satisfy federal officials. A remediation plan could be submitted to federal officials and Anderson County education officials by March 4.
The building is owned by the city, and the municipal staff would lead the repair project. The Preschool is used by about 200 students, including those in the Head Start program.
Oak Ridge City Manager Mark Watson told City Council members that an inspection last year by the health and safety manager of Anderson County Head Start found flaking lead-based paint on the building’s exterior.
The U.S. government has prohibited the production and use of lead-based paint since the late 1970s. But existing lead-based paint that remains on buildings may be sealed or removed, particularly on public buildings or buildings that are recipients of federal funds, such as Head Start, Watson said.
He said there were no findings inside the building, so it’s only the exterior that needs to be addressed under the inspection. Fixing the lead-based paint before the 2015-2016 school year would be done in compliance with the guidelines and procedures of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Watson said.
Several options have been considered for the Preschool, including repairing the current building, constructing a new facility, leasing a new home for the preschool (or using a lease-purchase option), and splitting up the Preschool among the city’s elementary schools. The last option has been largely ruled out.
Officials say the 70-year-old Preschool and SAB Building, built as a temporary structure during World War II and once known as Pine Valley School, has about reached the end of its useful life.
“It meets standards, but is faced with predicted upgrades and maintenance costs in the foreseeable future,” Watson said in a memo to Council. “It has also been discussed for over 10 years now with the Oak Ridge Capital Improvements Program, an annual requirement of the Planning Commission and the Council.”
Bob Eby, who is now BOE vice chair and had served earlier on the School Board, said the discussion stretches back to at least the mid-1980s.
Watson outlined what he thinks the goals of the joint city/schools committee should be, and he suggested including certain staff members as well as a City Council member.
Anderson County officials apply for Head Start funding on behalf of Oak Ridge. That funding amounts to about $600,000 per year, or roughly 40 percent of the Preschool budget.