Commissioners ready to talk to school officials; superintendent says current facility unsafe
By Sarah Nagem
Two members of the Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education plan to meet with county leaders about the need for a central administration office.
In the meantime, Assistant Superintendent of Operations Gene Miller will revise the school system’s construction-project priorities.
The school board approved a priority list of projects in February, but it’s outdated. No. 1 on that list: a combined facility to house Cleveland and Woodleaf elementary schools.
Early plans to combine the two schools met opposition, so the list needs reworked anyway, Miller said.
The second priority approved in February is a new Knox Middle School.
A committee of the Rowan County Board of Commissioners is ready to talk with school officials about footing the bill for a new office. Commission Chairman Arnold Chamberlain, Commissioner Jim Sides and County Manager Gary Page will represent the county in the discussions.
At a school board work session on Monday, school officials said the need for a central office is pressing.
Even so, Superintendent Dr. Judy Grissom said she didn’t like the word “priority.”
But the Long Street administration building is dangerous, she said.
“If we don’t get a new central office, we have got to do something about the safety of this building,” Grissom said. “We’re going to be facing serious problems and lawsuits if we don’t do something about this building.”
The balcony in the board room droops, Grissom said, and staff advises people to not sit under it.
Last December, a Charlotte engineering company evaluated the Long Street building. In a January letter to to Bill Burgin of Ramsay, Burgin, Smith Architects Inc. of Salisbury, the company wrote that the floors have held too much weight and may be a safety concern.
A proposed central office would consolidate the offices at Long Street and Ellis Street, housing 166 administration employees, Miller said. As the school system grows, he said, the number of employees would increase.
In its list of construction priorities the board laid out in February, a new central office is listed with a price tag of about $10.8 million. It is No. 3 on that priority list.
School systems often find it hard to identify a new administration center as a top priority when schools need upgrades, Miller said.
Woodleaf Elementary has water issues. The wells produce enough water for only one or two days at a time, he said, forcing workers to pump the wells often.
Cleveland Elementary is showing its age. Maintenance workers run into trouble when it comes to wiring, and Miller said it’s hard to heat and cool the building efficiently.
The campus of Knox Middle School consists of several separate buildings connected by breezeways.
“It’s just not a good situation,” Miller said.
A new Knox Middle would be housed in one building.
The cost of building any of those three schools would be higher than the cost of a central office, according to the school system’s figures.
Cleveland and Woodleaf elementary schools would each cost about $15.6 million. The county would have to spend about $24.3 million to buy land and rebuild Knox Middle.
School board Chairman Dr. Jim Emerson said the school system could consider moving its administration to an existing school building.
“Knox could make a great central office, but look at the price tag,” he said.
Emerson and board member Karen Carpenter will meet with the committee of commissioners.
Miller said he will present a revised construction priorities list to the school board at its Aug. 25 meeting.