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CHARLESTON -- Cathy Ball says she's looking forward to when she doesn't have to move her desk to cover puddles on her classroom floor.

Ball is a sixth grade teacher at Jefferson Elementary School in Charleston and said protecting students from slipping on a wet floor has been just one problem with the building's conditions.

It came to the point that water leaks forced the relocation of another teacher's classroom, she said.

"That affects the students when they have a disruption like that," Ball said.

There are also rooms in the school where plaster on walls has loosened and crumbled because of water damage, among other signs of the problems.

But repairs at Jefferson, the oldest school building in the Charleston district, and work on other schools is taking place this summer. The district's approach is to use a new sale tax revenue to take a pay-as-you-go approach to work that's needed.

"It's a long time coming and in the students' best interest," Ball said. "It's the overall morale, to be in a building that's not falling apart."

The school district started receiving revenue from the sales tax in November. That came a year after Coles County voter approval of the issue that added 1 percent to the sales tax on many items sold in the county.

Schools can use the tax revenue for construction projects, repairs and similar work or to pay bond debt; it can't go to salaries or employee benefits.

The Charleston district has received about $1.4 million in sales tax revenue so far, Assistant Superintendent Chad Burgett said. Once the money started coming in, the district's school board started approved projects totaling about $1.1 million to date.

"We're so blessed that Coles County voters approved that sales tax," Burgett said. "Without those revenues, I don't see how the district would be able to tackle all those projects."

Since the sales tax issue was on the ballot two years ago, district officials have taken the position that projects would wait until until enough tax revenue was available to pay for the work.

That meant the district didn't have to issue bonds to fund the construction then pay them, along with interest, with the sales tax revenue.

The sales tax revenue also goes to Mattoon and Oakland schools. Mattoon is using it to pay bond debt and Oakland is combining debt payments with maintenance.

With any of the approaches, the schools don't have to levy property taxes to pay for what the sales tax is funding.

The current work in Charleston includes repairing the roof and tuckpointing the masonry of the oldest section of Jefferson Elementary, which is at the front of the building and was built in 1926.

That section of the building is "maxed out on space" because of the number of sections of sixth grade classes this coming school year, Jefferson Principal Rob Ulm said.

"We would have to do something or do without," he said.

The roof section has "literally, a hole" that's about 2 feet wide and is worse than first thought, Burgett said.

Also, the building section's mortar has deteriorated to the point that it would soon "start losing bricks" without the tuckpointing, according to Corey Mason, one of the owners of Kross Masonry, the company doing the work.

The tuckpointing will also improve the building's appearance, and the company is also applying new caulking to windows in the section, he added.

"It's going to help stop the water and protect it from further deterioration," Mason said.

Work funded with the sales tax revenue is also taking place this summer at four other Charleston district schools and there are also plans to upgrade the district's phone system. Burgett said total cost of the current projects is about $1.1 million.

The other projects, mostly related to drainage and heating and air conditioning systems, are at Ashmore, Carl Sandburg and Mark Twain elementary schools and at Charleston High School.

Some of the work will probably go "right up to" the start of the school year but most will be done before students return, Burgett said.

The district is expecting about $1.8 million each year from the sales tax and Burgett said the district's facilities committee will soon look at what to do next.

"The list is going to go on and on," he said. "We've put together a long-term plan. We're trying to be sensible about it."

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Contact Dave Fopay at 217-238-6858. Follow him in Twitter: @FopayDave.


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