Bond update could eliminate lead paint in Cumberland County schools

It's been 20 years since voters approved a school bond in Cumberland County, but now some school leaders said they feel a bond may be needed for capital improvements.

Greg West, Chairman of the Cumberland County School Board, said the board has identified more than 200 million dollars’ worth of capital improvements that lottery money and other funds just won't cover.

Lead paint has chipped off old elementary schools on two occasions since August. Four hundred students were tested for lead exposure, and while all were okay, West said the issue needs to be taken seriously.

"At a peak, we have 8 or 9 million a year, and now we're getting 3 million from the lottery. And other sources aren't there like they used to be, and the need keeps growing. These buildings are getting older."

The number of huts scattered around school campuses in Cumberland County has also increased. There are 200 huts, nine of which are at Howard Hall Elementary. West said redistricting isn't the answer to overcrowded schools in some parts of the county.

"You can't redistrict the whole north side to the east side of Cumberland County or to the south side," West said. "We've got a site for a new school up here on the north side of the town. But this is where a demonstrable need for a new elementary school building."

West said if a bond is approved by voters, it could also build a new High School in the EE Smith area and improve technology for students' throughout the system.

"More teleconferencing labs and more computer access time is something different that we need to continually keep pushing the envelope here," he said.

School leaders are putting together six different bond proposals, ranging from $72 million to $178 million.

The money would be used to cover the cost of building new schools, improving technology and making permanent repairs to 28 elementary schools that have issues with lead-based paint.

West said right now children are safe at those schools, but they'd like to get rid of the problem once and for all.

"So on these older schools, we done a good job maintaining them, but you can't do it forever," West said. "We need to replace those windows and those door frames that have the lead paint primer that came from the factory. So those are high on the list of getting replaced when we get new money to do this from a bond."

The Board of Education still must finalize its numbers and make the case for a bond issue to County Commissioners before Commissioners vote on whether to put it on a ballot.

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