Brunswick school board reviews more options for behavioral treatment center

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BrunswickCSWhile moving forward temporarily with a plan to put a behavioral treatment program for elementary students at Bolivia Elementary School, Brunswick County education leaders are still considering their site options.

But two hopefuls–both owned by Brunswick Community College (BCC)–are not shaping up to be viable locations. So said Craig Eckert, director of capital projects and planning for the district, during a meeting of the board’s operations committee on Tuesday.

As directed by the board following the most recent discussion of the day treatment center, which will pair educators with psychologists within the classroom, Eckert and staff looked into two additional buildings–a former church on the campus of BCC in Bolivia and an unused portion of the old Brunswick Learning Center in Southport. BCC plans to use the renovated part of that latter site as a continuing education center.

Earlier this month, the board voted 4-1, with Charlie Miller dissenting, to allow for a separate building on Bolivia Elementary’s campus to be assessed by a mental health provider as an appropriate location for the treatment center. But members also directed staff to continue a search for another location during the assessment process.

After looking into the BCC properties, Eckert said the church “has been taken off the table,” as it is currently being utilized by the college.

Eckert, who toured the second site with Donald Bassinger, BCC’s vice president of operations, told board members it would cost nearly $250,000 to repair a badly damaged roof and another estimated $600,000 for interior repairs and renovations.

The original plan to make minor renovations to a portion of Bolivia Elementary would cost approximately $24,000–the most cost-effective site–but it would mean identified students would be in close quarters with traditional students. The separate building at Bolivia tentatively approved by the board will cost nearly $48,500 in additional classroom and bathroom construction.

Since the treatment center was first proposed earlier this year, board members have questioned housing children diagnosed with mental health disorders on the same campus as other students. And some, like John Thompson, have expressed concern about opening a center that has no potential for expansion.

The day treatment program would start with 24 students districtwide–six in each classroom.

But Tuesday, Thompson said trying to find a location large enough for such expansion might not be the most effective way to pursue the program. Instead, he said, the board could consider eventually opening up multiple sites across the district.

“In the long run that might be a better way for us to approach it…It might be that a single location would never make sense,” he noted.

Whatever the number and location of sites, the district will have to pick up costs beyond that of building renovations.

Assistant superintendent Dr. Deanna Meadows said the price to bus the students already identified as candidates for the day treatment center to and from their home schools is $214,000 annually. Add to that, she said, another $132,192 to bus them to Bolivia Elementary. It would have cost $137,376 more to take them to BCC, and $239, 112 to bus them to Southport.

In addition, the district will need to spend approximately $250,000 for educators and a center director.

Meadows said she is currently negotiating with the mental health provider on transportation costs.

“We’re really trying to get them to fund a significant portion of the transportation,” she said.

Identifying Bolivia Elementary as the site of the treatment center was done simply to begin drafting a memorandum of agreement with a mental health provider. Meadows said she hopes to have that agreement ready to present to the board in August.

But mentioning Brunswick County Academy again, board chairwoman Catherine Cooke said she was still considering all the options. The academy–an alternative school for middle and high school students–was originally brought forward as a possibility, but district staff raised concerns about legal challenges to civil rights violations that could arise from putting young children in the same school as teens.

“Are all options still on the table?” vice chairwoman Shirley Babson asked.

“I was of the understanding that we only submitted Bolivia to get the process going, and all options are still on the table,” Miller responded.

The board’s decision does not mean the district is locked into the Bolivia campus if another viable location presents itself, and it is not an official vote to approve the day treatment program.

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