County will wait until 2014 for central office vote

SALISBURY — 2014 may see an end to the controversial school central office debate.

Commissioners voted 4-1 to delay a decision on the proposed 329 S. Main St. central office site after the school board chairman again asked the county to fund the beleaguered downtown project Monday night. The proposal will be addressed at a January meeting.

The board has been adamant against the downtown project after county leaders voted to de-fund the initiative last January.

But Vice Chairman Craig Pierce and Commissioners Chad Mitchell and Mike Caskey asked to have more time to review the board’s most recent request to pursue the site.

Richard Miller, school board chairman, told county officials the board wanted to pursue the downtown project and asked the county to respect its statutory authority to choose the central office location.

Miller requested the board fund $7.3 million for the project, which he said was the estimated cost.

“We certainly honor your statutory authority and at this point we ask that you honor our statutory authority,” he said.

Barber, a supporter of the project, quickly jumped in and asked the board to fund the central office, but the motion died almost as quickly.

Chad Mitchell, who has remained quiet as of late on the central office, then spoke up and asked the board for more time to review the options.

When asked about the motion later, Mitchell said he didn’t see the move as changing his position on the central office. He said he wanted to see more of the numbers and the costs of the project.

“Bottom line: I don’t think the votes on this board exist to open the site choosing authority up. So those are the realities and the parameters that we have to work within. My goal is to get a central office built. It’s not necessarily to get that central office built,” Mitchell said, referring to the 329 S. Main St. site.

But after the motion, Pierce asked the board for more than two weeks to look at the proposal.

County officials reversed position on the 329 S. Main St. site last spring, citing possible groundwater contamination.

Through the summer, county and city officials continued to duel over the contamination at the site.

In October, the county reinstated its $6 million financing pledge and offered a list of five possible sites for a new central office. The 329 S. Main St. property was not on the list, and commissioners Chairman Jim Sides told school system officials they could add other sites for consideration, but not the downtown site.

But a state agency released a ‘No Further Action’ letter for the property earlier this month, prompting school officials to renew their push for the downtown site.

Caskey, a former school board member who has opposed the downtown site, said he wanted to see more information about possible vapor intrusion concerns and legal issues with the property.

Caskey also said estimated costs provided in a spread sheet to the board didn’t tell the whole truth.

“Looking at those numbers, according to that spread sheet, Salisbury is less expensive out of those three but they’re not counting all the tax payer dollars that’s been spent by the city on the downtown site,” Caskey said. “If you add all that in there downtown is going to be a lot more expensive than (Summit Corporate Park). Summit seems to be the least expensive. But we need a little more time to look at it because it’s only been two days. The saga continues.”

Contact reporter Nathan Hardin at 704-797-4246.

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