County offers five options for central office

SALISBURY — County leaders said a proposed South Main Street site for the school central office will not be reconsidered but two unnamed sites, at least one of which is believed to be downtown, may still be on the table.

Commissioners voted unanimously Monday to offer five sites — none of which are downtown — to the school system for a new central office site.

Chairman Jim Sides said he met with County Manager Gary Page, School Board Chair Richard Miller and new Superintendent Lynn Moody on Monday morning to discuss the proposed sites.

Sides said he told school leaders he would not consider any proposed central office site unless the school system agrees to end budget mediation talks that have waged since late summer.

Vice Chairman Craig Pierce presented five sites at Monday’s commission meeting and asked that the board vote to offer the options before considering any other proposed sites from the school system.

The five sites include:

• Beside Isenberg Elementary School on Jake Alexander Boulevard.

• On North Long Street in East Spencer, on the site of one of the system’s existing administrative offices.

• On Old Concord Road, beside the bus garage.

• In Summit Corporate Center, the county’s industrial park.

• In China Grove, off U.S. 29

Commissioners have cited concerns about contaminated soil at the site the school board chose, property the city of Salisbury offered to give the school system at 329 S. Main St.

School leaders asked the county not to vote on the proposed sites until the schools had time to meet, Page said, but the county wanted to make the initial proposal and let the school system respond.

Sides said he told school leaders the proposal would likely be approved by the board Monday night, but said he told Miller and Moody any alternative sites — outside of the 329 S. Main Street site — would be considered.

In a letter to Sides, dated Oct. 21, Miller said the gathering a “productive meeting,” and said he appreciated the open dialogue and mutual concerns for ending the dispute.

“Specifically, I am very pleased to see a proposal for the central office on your agenda for tonight’s meeting,” he wrote. “I truly appreciate Commissioner Pierce’s elevating this issue for consideration and possible solutions.”

Miller could not be reached for comment Monday.

But Commissioner Jon Barber said there have been discussions regarding two other sites the schools are more interested in. At least one of those sites is believed to be in the downtown Salisbury area.

Following the meeting, Page said he didn’t think the two boards wanted the two possible alternate sites made public.

“I don’t think they — Dr. Miller or Dr. Moody or Jim — we weren’t ready to disclose that,” Page said. “We were afraid that if we started disclosing these other two sites that had come up then it would look like we were pushing our boards in a direction plus it would stimulate a lot of comment out in the public that might be needless at this point. So we just said we’ll offer the five that you’ve seen.”

Page said the trio did discuss one specific site during the meeting as well as the spots “pluses and minuses.”

“The ball is in the board of education’s court. I think if they come back with any one of those five — or if either one of these other ones are to work — we may even be able to get a unanimous vote out of our board, Page said. “The only one that I think is off the table is the South Main Street one.”

Still, Sides said he wants to see the two boards end their longwinded fight over the central office simultaneously with a new disagreement: the unflinching budget mediation dispute.

“I realize they’re two separate items but in my opinion they are pretty much one in the same,” Sides said.

Barber didn’t intend to let the issue lie Monday. He harkened back to an agreement between the two boards that fell through in early 2012 and questioned if the same would happen if the county were to purchase the Salisbury Mall.

“I’m just wanting some confirmation that the school central office won’t be on the chopping block if we get into the budget process and we found ourselves in severe significant tax increase issue,” Barber said.

Pierce fired back, saying he’s identified funding for the project and would move quickly on the issue if an agreement were reached.

“It’s my intention that as soon as the board of education has seen this proposal, if they vote favorable, it’s my intention to immediately go to the [Local Government Commission] and secure funding,” Pierce said,” and hopefully by the time the budget session starts we’ll have it coming out of the ground.”

Some of the only fireworks from the evening came during a back-and-forth exchange between Sides and Barber after Barber brought up the history of the boards’ bad blood and the push this summer to legislate county control over future school buildings.

But Sides wasn’t having it.

We’re trying to get beyond that,” Sides said, cutting Barber off.

Sides said Monday’s meeting with school leaders was good and he hopes to build on it.

“I don’t want to go backwards from that,” he said.

Just before the meeting ended Monday night, Barber halted the board to suggest asking the city not to sue the county over remarks made about the soil quality at 329 S. Main St.

Last week, City Councilwoman Karen Alexander said she believes Rowan County commissioners Vice Chairman Craig Pierce and others may have “slandered the title” of the property by repeatedly spreading false information about environmental contamination at the site.

“As a member of this board I personally think I have a good relationship with the city of Salisbury, I would like to publicly make a request that the city does not sue our Vice Chairman or the county for what they are calling ‘slander of title’ and I think it would be important to make this request of the city of Salisbury, which I consider an olive branch,” Barber said. “Since this request is coming from me I think the city of Salisbury will seriously consider and honor this request.”

No one responded to the brief remark and the board promptly adjourned.

Contact reporter Nathan Hardin at 704-797-4246.

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