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Feasibility study OK’d for converting grocery store to school offices

By Jessie Burchette
jburchette@Salisburypost
On a split vote, Rowan county commissioners have agreed to contract a feasibility study for revamping a former grocery store building into a central administrative office for the Rowan-Salisbury School System.
The discussion Monday evening included some sharp exchanges between commissioners. And top school officials also faced grilling over issues including the dropout rate and land purchases.
Under the proposal, the county would buy the former Winn-Dixie building on Jake Alexander Boulevard and convert it to school offices to house employees now scattered at four sites.
One option includes renovating the existing 42,600-square-foot structure. A second option would add a 16,000-square-foot addition. School officials favor the larger option.
Commissioners approved a motion by Commissioner Jon Barber to do the feasibility study of the Winn-Dixie building and not look at other potential options. The study is expected to cost around $20,000.
Vice Chairman Chad Mitchell and Chairman Arnold Chamberlain joined in supporting the motion. Mitchell and Barber are employees of the Rowan-Salisbury School System.
Commissioners Jim Sides and Tina Hall voted against.
Sides suggested other options, including building a free-standing steel building on school property off Old Concord Road. He also suggested fixing safety issues at the Long Street building and making other improvements.
Sides said he considers a merged administrative office a long-term goal for the schools, not an immediate goal.
Sides, who served on the central office committee with Chamberlain, said he felt like he was serving on a “Committee of One,” and he had very little input in the process.
Later in the session, Chamberlain took issue with Sides’ comment. “To suggest that he was steamrolled is completely inaccurate,” he said. He went on to say that he appointed Sides to the committee because he knew Sides had a different view of the central office issue.
County Manager Gary Page will select a consultant, who will provide a thorough assessment of the existing Winn-Dixie building and space needs of the school system.
The report is expected to be ready within four to six weeks.
During the discussion, Mitchell said he couldn’t see spending $2 million-$3 million on the Long Street building, which is 83 years old. “It’s the county’s responsibility to provide facilities … safe offices.”
Jim Emerson, chairman of the Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education, agreed. “Spending $2 million on that old building is a waste of money.”
Hall, a retired principal, noted the school administration’s assertions about cost savings from having all staff in one building.
She pointed out that school officials had cited “cost savings” as the reason for paying $1.5 million for land in China Grove for an elementary school. Hall recalled school officials said a new school would be needed in three to four years.
She then noted a comment by a school board member published in the Post that no new schools would be needed for 10 years.
Pointing out that he didn’t say that, Emerson added, “I can’t be responsible for everything Bryce Beard says.” Beard is another member of the school board.
Hall then questioned the dropout rate, asking Emerson if students are the top priority .
Emerson assured commissioners that students are the top priority but said the dropout rate will take a long time to solve.
Barber found a bit of a silver lining, pointing out that if the school system succeeds in keeping the 350 or so students in school who normally drop out, it will cost the county $1.6 million in additional dollars over two years to keep student funding at the state average.

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