City receives No Further Action letter for proposed central office site; commissioner says it won’t change county’s mind
SALISBURY — The state on Monday issued a “No Further Action” letter for 329 S. Main St., and city officials said Rowan County now should approve the city-owned property for the school central office.
But county commission Vice Chairman Craig Pierce said commissioners have made a proposal to the school board and won’t consider the downtown site.
“Now that we already have our proposal out, we’re going to vote on that proposal,” Pierce said. “If the school system decides they want to revisit 329, they’ll have to do it through the city because the votes currently on the board do not support that.”
The N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources regional office in Mooresville issued the letter. The site was a former service station, and the state paid for most of a $500,000 cleanup that removed more than 3,500 tons of contaminated soil from the property.
Monitoring wells have been in place since the soil remediation to monitor and remove groundwater contamination. The state on Monday said groundwater contamination meets the cleanup requirements.
Dan Graham, the state’s project manager for the massive cleanup, works in the N.C. Division of Waste Management’s Underground Storage Tank Section and wrote the letter.
“Based on information provided to date, the UST Section finds it appropriate to reduce the risk classification of the subject incident from intermediate to low,” Graham wrote. “Furthermore, the UST Section determines that no further action is required for this incident.”
Although monitoring wells were in use, the state in April cleared the site for development. But a majority of county commissioners opposed putting the school central office on the property without a No Further Action letter.
Now that the city has the letter, the county should approve the city, City Manager Doug Paris said in a press release.
“We are excited to have received the letter that Rowan County required and are even more excited that the county commission can now approve this site,” Paris said.
He listed the site’s attributes, including private funding, a central location and “shovel-ready” status, meaning the building design and engineering are complete. The Rowan-Salisbury School System has paid about $750,000 in architecture fees.
The city has offered to donate the land, worth about $200,000, and provide 160 parking space for central office employees.
“Rowan County Chamber of Commerce endorsement. Rowan County School Board approval. What’s not to like?” Paris said.
Last month, an unnamed, prominent Salisbury family offered to finance the $7.3 million downtown central school office. As a result, neither Rowan County or the city would have to take on debt for the building, Paris said.
But after the offer from the family, commission Vice Chairman Craig Pierce said a majority of commissioners would continue to oppose the site, saying the property was still contaminated.
The city, school board and family need the commissioners to make the deal work. The commissioners must approve any long-term lease by the school system.
Commissioners agreed recently to reinstate $6 million to fund the central office, but not at 329 S. Main St.
The school board then voted to consider three sites, including 329 S. Main, as well as the former Department of Social Services property and a lot at Summit Corporate Center.
The school system is currently polling Rowan County residents about which location they prefer. The poll is available at www.rss.k12.nc.us until Friday.
The city on Monday said county commissioners do not have the authority to choose the site of the central school office.
“The statutory authority to pick the location rests solely with the Rowan-Salisbury School System Board of Education,” city spokeswoman Elaney Hasselmann said in the press release. “A legislative attempt by the Rowan County Board of Commissioners to take that authority away from the Board of Education failed in the General Assembly.
“The Rowan County Board of Commissioners has no legal or statutory authority to exclude the downtown location.”
Private foundations have agreed to fund $500,000 in furnishings for the downtown central office, and the Rowan County Economic Development Commission estimates the facility, along with the Integro Technologies headquarters under construction next door, would generate $1.25 million a year in retail sales and services for small businesses in the center of the city.
Hundreds of people attended a public hearing at City Hall in support of the downtown location.
The proposed central office is key to the city’s plans for redeveloping South Main Street. Officials have said they would be able to land a developer for the nearby vacant Empire Hotel within a year of starting construction on the central office.
The school board originally chose the downtown location, and county commissioners pledged $6 million for the project with no strings attached.
But the make-up of the commission changed after the 2012 election, and the new majority rejected the downtown location, citing environmental contamination.
The city took over the project, and commissioners said they had washed their hands of the issue. Salisbury planned to build a larger, $7.3 million central office and lease it to the school system, which would have used state sales tax revenue to make the debt payments.
But all cities need the state’s blessing to borrow money, and Salisbury pulled its application before the N.C. Local Government Commission could make a ruling.
For the No Further Action determination to become valid, the city must file a Notice of Residual Petroleum with the Rowan County Register of Deeds, Graham said.
He said the city also must give public notice of the No Further Action letter to all property owners and residents near 329 S. Main within 30 days. Public notice is required because groundwater contamination exceeds the quality standards in recently revised state regulations, Graham said.
Interested parties may examine the incident file at 610 E. Center Ave. in Mooresville or call 704-663-1699.
Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.