Downtown site favored for central school office

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 1, 2009

By Maggie Blackwell
Representatives from the Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education and the Rowan County Commission met Friday with school administrators to discuss a consolidated central office for the school system.
Seven sites have been identified for the project over the past two and a half years. Currently, the board is considering five locations: a Main Street site where the Farmer’s Market is, the former Winn-Dixie building, the bus lot property on Old Concord Road, the Ellis Street location and open land on Statesville Boulevard. School board representatives say the downtown location is their favorite option, if parking issues can be worked out, but the board has not taken a vote.
Dr. Judy Grissom, superintendent of schools, and Gene Miller, assistant superintendent of operations, attended the meeting. Commissioners there were Chairman Carl Ford, Tina Hall and Raymond Coltrain. County manager Gary Page also attended.
The school board was represented by Chairman Dr. Jim Emerson and Karen Carpenter.
School board members also sought financial commitment from county commissioners for the project.
About a year ago, city representatives suggested that the school board consider property in the 300 block of South Main Street, the current location of the Rowan Farmer’s Market.
At the time, the downtown site was the favorite option of the school board.
Since then, the school board has been asked to look at costs of renovating and adding on to the vacant Winn-Dixie building on Jake Alexander Boulevard. Following that, officials were asked to explore the cost of constructing a new building on land adjacent to the school system’s bus garage on Old Concord Road. The county already owns the land.
City representatives also asked school board members to reconsider the downtown option and confirmed that land is available for ample parking.
Ford said a lot of expensive projects are on the horizon. But he added, “I can reiterate, there is a consensus. We want consolidation, we want to do something. Everyone has agreed on that.”
He noted a communication system in 2012, at $12 million or more, is one upcoming item.
“We’ve got to build a jail, and that’s not cheap,” he said. “We have a lot of things going. It’s on our list. Everybody wants to do it. There are different ideas, different concepts and different timelines. We are on board รณ it’s just a question of when.”
Grissom pointed out there are no new schools being planned in the immediate future. “Probably for us, this makes now the best time for us to plan the central office,” she said.
Due to the current economic downturn, building contractors are offering reduced prices.
Hall brought up the state budget shortfall, which is likely to cause funds to be rescinded from the school system. Considering that, she wanted to be sure student instruction would not be adversely affected by the work on an office.
Grissom pointed out the difference between capital funds and operating expenses. “They come from different parts of the budget. We cannot take money from one and use it for the other,” she said.
“In the meantime, let’s work out the details so when we are ready, we’re ready to go,” Ford said.
As Coltrain sees it, selection of the site is up to the school board as long as all practical concerns are met and tax dollars are used most effectively. “We’re all serving the same taxpayers, aren’t we?” he asked.
The group discussed the merits of different building materials.
“No one wants a Taj Mahal,” Carpenter said.
Page suggested the county commit $375,000 per year for payments on the $7.5 million debt estimated for the project, if the school board would commit the same amount. Primary decision makers under such an arrangement would be the school board, with commissioners having authority to approve or deny.
After further discussion, school board members committed to consider this plan at their regular meeting Monday. County Commissioners will deliberate the issue at their planning retreat in February.