Rowan-Salisbury School System asks county to help fund downtown offices

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 1, 2009

By Jessie Burchette
CHINA GROVE ó School officials are asking the county to commit to paying $350,000 a year for 15 years to provide a central office for administrators.
School officials would pick the site and the architect and oversee the project under the scenario outlined to the Rowan County Board of Commissioners on Wednesday, the second day of the board’s retreat at the Tadlock South Rowan Library.
The Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education currently favors a site in downtown Salisbury but will consider other sites including the former Winn-Dixie property and property on Old Concord Road owned by the school system.
Gene Miller, an assistant superintendent with the system, said details remain to be worked out on the Salisbury site including ownership, the parking lot and provisions for additional parking if needed. If the details can’t be worked out to the total satisfaction of the school board, other sites will be considered.
School officials are asking the county to borrow $7.5 million to be repaid over a 15-year period with the county and school system each paying $350,000 annually.
Miller offered to help the county out with the first year or two in making payments, saying the school system will cover county payments in excess of $350,000 during the first two years. Under a 15-year payment scenario at 5 percent interest, payments would be in excess of $700,000 for the first five years.
School officials noted they have $1.8 million in building funds that can be used for the project.
Miller urged commissioners to give the go-ahead, saying construction projects are drawing large numbers of bidders and low prices.
He cited recent bids on a West Rowan High School grandstand project that was expected to cost $600,000. It drew 17 bidders and a low bid of $410,000.
And he noted Rowan-Cabarrus Community College recently had more than 50 bidders for a classroom building that came in well under budget.
Under the Rowan-Salisbury proposal, school system officials would select an architect, bid the project and expect to have it completed by November 2010.
Commissioner Tina Hall pressed Miller on whether the central office is the system’s top priority.
Miller said from a safety standpoint, “the central office is the No. 1 priority right now.”
He pointed to structural problems in the system’s offices on Long Street in East Spencer, as well as safety issues.
Hall also questioned how much money the school system has available.
Finance Officer Tara Trexler said the school system has between $5 million and $6 million in unrestricted fund balance.
Miller added the system has $1.8 million in money set aside for buildings that would be used to make payments on the central office debt.
Hall suggested the school system might consider moving into the Social Services Building on West Innes Street once it is vacated. She suggested that could be a less expensive alternative.
Miller said he had looked at the building and that it has an “indoor air quality issue.” He said he got a headache after visiting the building.
Minutes later, Ken Deal, the county’s director of administration, challenged Miller’s assertion.
“There’s nothing wrong with that building,” Deal said, adding the air has been tested.
Commissioners are expected to discuss the central office project today and get a recommendation from County Manager Gary Page on a possible funding scenario.
Although commissioners won’t vote directly on the central office issue, they will set their priorities for the coming year ó indicating whether or not they will support the project.
Contact Jessie Burchette at 704-797-4254.