RSS board: Downtown site still best for central office

After considering other sites for a new central office, the Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education came back to the one the majority of members wanted in the first place: 329 S. Main St. in Salisbury.

However, they may face a tough task convincing the Rowan County Board of Commissioners to pay for a central office there when a majority of that board has consistently said it’s not an option.

The school board voted 5-2 to take the downtown site back to the commissioners anyway. Chairman Richard Miller, Vice Chairwoman Kay Wright Norman and members Jean Kennedy, Susan Cox and L.A. Overcash voted in favor, while members Chuck Hughes and Josh Wagner were opposed.

At a meeting last month, the board considered a list of sites offered by the county, including the property where the old Department of Social Services building now sits on West Innes Street and land in Summit Corporate Park on Julian Road. The school board asked architect Bill Burgin to look into those sites further, along with 329 S. Main St.

The city owns the South Main Street property and has offered to give it to the school system as well as finance construction of the central office, with the district repaying the loan through a long-term lease.

But the state and city paid to replace a massive amount of soil at the former service station location after testing found contamination from leaking fuel tanks buried there. A well has also been installed to monitor groundwater.

County officials have cited contamination as the main reason for objecting to the site, but the city recently received a notice from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources that no further action was necessary there.

Burgin said when he talked with County Manager Gary Page about what site in the county’s industrial park might be available, he was offered land on Julian Road across from the county fairgrounds, which is now used for event parking.

Based on the previous bid for constructing the central office downtown, he estimated the cost to build and furnish a 62,000-square-foot facility on Julian Road would be around $8.2 million; at the old Department of Social Services site, nearly $8.6 million, which includes demolishing the existing building; and at 329 S. Main St., $7.7 million.

County commissioners have said they will borrow up to $6 million for the project, but the school board voted 5-2 — with Hughes and Wagner again dissenting — to ask for the full cost of the project or a lease-purchase deal with the city.

“I think it’s incumbent upon us to pick the site that fills the needs the system has for 20,000 kids and that is cost efficient,” Miller said. “Commissioners will have to determine how they fulfill their obligation.”

Wagner called it “the most ridiculous and ignorant thing I’ve ever heard” to say the school board doesn’t known how commissioners will react. “We know what the county’s going to say.”

“Maybe the board’s just completely disconnected from reality, I don’t know,” Wagner said. “... You guys have fun without a central office for however many years.”

County commissioners Jon Barber and Mike Caskey attended the meeting. Barber said commissioners had “defined the parameters” for the school board to make a decision.

“In my opinion, they’ve done what they’ve been asked,” he said. “Now it’s up to us to follow through on our commitments.”

Caskey said after hearing the information presented Friday, he may be willing to reconsider the $6 million financing figure, but not the downtown site.

“I think that particular piece of property has become so polarizing ... if we ever build on it, it’s going to be controversial for years,” he said.

See Saturday’s Salisbury Post for more details.

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