County offer deal with schools on central office central administrative office for school system

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

By Jessie Burchette
A central administrative office for the Rowan-Salisbury School System may be closer to reality after a promising meeting of county and school officials.
County officials put a possible deal on the table that would provide $10 million to build a facility or upfit an existing building.
Arnold Chamberlain, chairman of the Rowan County Board of Commissioners, said the county is willing to partner with the school system. Chamberlain said the key is whether the Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education is willing to pay 50 percent of the costs.
Chamberlain, Commissioner Jim Sides and County Manager Gary Page laid out a plan to borrow up to $10 million with the debt payments estimated to run around $750,000 a year for 15 years.
Chamberlain and Sides indicated they believe commissioners will support paying half the debt payment if the school system will pay an equal share.
At least part of the school system’s share would come from an estimated $180,000 in savings ó on everything from utilities to rent and courier services ó from not operating four different administrative sites.
Currently, the school system has 155 employees at Long Street, Ellis Street, Horizons Unlimited and in leased space in Corporate Square.
Jim Emerson, chairman of the Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education, noted that the school board would have to come up with an additional $150,000 annually.
Other school representatives on the committee include board member Karen Carpenter, Superintendent Dr. Judy Grissom and Gene Miller, assistant superintendent.
In discussing potential revenue sources to pay for a central office, Chamberlain said any money from the sale of properties currently used for administrative offices would go toward the system’s share of the cost.
While much of the discussion focused on the former Winn-Dixie building off Jake Alexander Boulevard, county officials left the door open to considering other buildings or a new structure if it could be done within the $10 million budget.Emerson called the meeting promising and agreed to meet again as soon as county and school officials come up with detailed information on financing, space needs and related items.
Miller said the the system needs 53,000 square feet of space to accommodate current staff and some future growth.
At the outset of the meeting, Chamberlain said the focus would be a central office, not on building other schools or redistricting for North Rowan High School.
Chamberlain said the central office has been an issue since he was first elected to the Board of Commissioners in 1998. Noting that he will be leaving the board in December, Chamberlain said safety concerns about the Long Street building got his attention.
“If it is really a safety issue, we probably should have gotten you out of it yesterday,” Chamberlain said.
When school officials tried to turn the discussion to the county’s taking of lottery and capital outlay money to pay off school bond debt, Chamberlain and Sides made clear the county has its own debt to deal with and is facing major building projects, including a new jail.Commissioners and school officials found common ground in the failure of the state to provide adequate funding for schools.
“I totally agree about the state,” Grissom said, replying to Sides’ comment that the state is not doing its job of funding schools.
Sides also made clear he didn’t want the school system to spend money trying to fix the Long Street building, calling it a lost cause because of the structural and safety issues.Discussing a potential timetable, Page, the county manager, estimated it will take 18 months or more to get a project under way. That includes financing, buying land or a building, hiring an architect, designing the new structure or improvements to an existing one and awarding a contract.Chamberlain said if the project goes forward, the county would buy the property, handle the financing and construction and turn the building over to the school system once the project is completed.
Officials briefly discussed how the system would deal with the Long Street safety issues in the interim.
The committee will schedule a second meeting, probably within the next couple of weeks.
Carl Ford and Raymond Coltrain, candidates for the Board of Commissioners, attended the meeting.