Brunswick education leaders still undecided on mental health center location

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BrunswickCSBrunswick County education officials are ready to move forward with a program to help elementary students with mental issues.

Where that program will be housed is still undecided.

Earlier this month, central office staff recommended placing the day treatment program–which will pair educators with psychologists within the classroom–in a wing of Bolivia Elementary School. The concept arose out of feedback from county educators and administrators, who noted an increase in recent years in aggressive behaviors and mental health problems in the classroom.

But after hearing concerns from parents of students at Bolivia, board members decided they wanted to hear other options for the facility.

Assistant superintendent Dr. Deanne Meadows presented those options to the board’s policy and curriculum committee this week. Since the district does not currently own any suitable standalone buildings, Meadows said she and staff explored placing the day treatment program at other sites, with varying expenses.

The original plan to make minor renovations to a portion of Bolivia Elementary would cost approximately $24,000. A second viable location–a separate building at Bolivia–would cost nearly $48,500 in additional classroom and bathroom construction.

Meadows said the treatment facility requires four classrooms, an office for the program director and a room for counseling and therapy sessions.

The district could lease modular units and place them at Town Creek Elementary, Meadows said, but the cost to do so would total $345,000 over two years. And, she added, the state agencies that decide on whether to allow such a program do not often, if ever, give approval to modular units.

Board members could also give the go-ahead to a day treatment site in a wing of Brunswick County Academy, the district’s alternative middle and high school. The cost to renovate there would reach $112,000, including building a separate entrance for the elementary students.

“The concern with BCA is just having those elementary kids still on the same campus with middle and high school students and not having any other peer groups that are elementary age on the same campus,” Meadows said, noting the move could raise questions of civil rights violations.

Another question remaining is how much it will cost to bus the identified students. It could run anywhere from $108,000 to $375,000 for transportation, depending on whether the children are taken to their home school first and then the facility or dropped off directly at the day treatment site.

“I don’t know what the answer is about where to have it, but it certainly looks like…it would help more children,” board vice chairwoman Shirley Babson said.

But time is running out to provide that help, Meadows said. The district has already faltered on the original timeline for having the day treatment facility in place at the start of the new school year, due to the 90-day state approval process. And additional staff still must be hired.

“Would the program not be as successful if you went in two or three months into the school year versus the next semester?” board member Bud Thorsen asked.

“I don’t know that would it matter,” Meadows responded. “Once the school year starts and you’re starting after the school year starts, whether it is in October, November or January, it wouldn’t matter because the kids aren’t on semester classes like they are in high school.”

The real difficulty in beginning late, she said, is that most day treatment facilities retain students for a minimum of six months. Depending on when the site opens, some of that time might run into the summer, when children would still receive counseling but would miss out on the academic component.

The full board is expected to make a decision on a day treatment facility location at its next regular meeting at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, July 7, in the David R. Sandifer Building at the Brunswick County Government Center.

Hilary Snow is a reporter at Port City Daily. Reach her at (910) 772-6341 or hilary.s@hometownwilmington.com.