school priority list

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

By Holly Fesperman LeeSalisbury Post
The Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education agreed Monday to ask county commissioners to combine Woodleaf and Cleveland elementary schools into one new, larger school.
That new school would hold around 900 students, Rowan-Salisbury School System officials say.
The board named land and construction of a new elementary school in the western part of the county the school system’s top capital need at a special meeting Monday evening. The project caps a $114.4 million list of requests that school officials will now submit to county commissioners.
Land for the school, which the board tagged as priority 1A, would cost an estimated $1.5 million, according to information the board received Monday. Construction of the school would cost $19.4 million.
Jimmy Greene, president of the PTA at Cleveland Elementary, heard about the proposal for the first time Monday evening when he was called by a Post reporter.
He said the idea comes “from right field.” “I didn’t even know they were thinking about it,” Greene said.
But Woodleaf and Cleveland schools are old (both opened in 1927), Greene acknowledged, and he expressed an openness to the idea.
“It depends on how they go about it,” he added.
Parents naturally want what’s best for their children in administrators, teachers and facilities, Greene noted. He said he personally appreciated that the school board was looking to improve facilities in western Rowan County, an area that sometimes feels left out.
Last year, a replacement for Woodleaf Elementary School was No. 4 on the capital needs list, while a new school to replace Cleveland Elementary occupied the No. 10 spot.
Assistant Superintendent Gene Miller proposed putting both needs together and building one combined school.When school officials started thinking about how hard it is to find water and sewer in that area, the idea of a school between Cleveland and Woodleaf came up, he said.
Some board members expressed concerns that such a large number of elementary students would not be ideal. The largest elementary school in the system, China Grove Elementary, has a capacity of 781 students but currently has an enrollment of 690 students, according to school system figures.
Miller explained that the real advantage would be lower cost. Building a combined school and purchasing land would cost about $21 million versus $31 million to build two separate schools.
Miller said water supply issues at Woodleaf pushed it to the top of the list.
The school has only one functioning well that pumps at a very low rate. Miller said the well’s pump has to run all night to generate enough water for the next school day.
He said the system has tried several times to drill new wells at the school, but they are all contaminated and won’t pass required tests.
“It’s the one that has the biggest potential for the major problem,” he said.
If the water supply goes out, Miller said, he would have to figure out where to put 300-plus students on a daily basis.
While board members agreed there are still many factors to consider, they made land and construction costs for the new school their top capital request.
Miller told board members that county commissioners want a prioritized list of capital needs again this year as they enter their annual budget discussions. Miller said he needs to get the list to commissioners by Wednesday. He’ll present the information at the county board’s planning retreat.
Last year, additional money for technology infrastructure and land for a new south area elementary school topped the list. Miller told board members both of those needs were met so, he took those off and moved the others around.
A replacement school for Knox Middle School made a dramatic climb up the list this year. It was No. 11 last year, but board members placed it No. 2 on the most recent list.
School system officials estimate the cost of a replacement for Knox at about $24 million, including land.
A combined central office and conference center ended up in the No. 3 spot.
Board member Bryce Beard said he thought the issue is separate from the rest of the system’s capital needs.
While things like the Woodleaf school water situation may be more pressing, Beard said it would be hard to say a new central office wasn’t needed.
Board Chairman Dr. Jim Emerson agreed.
“The amount of money we’re going to spend on that old building out there in the next five years, it’s just going to be a waste,” Emerson said of current system offices on Long Street in East Spencer.
“It’s not viewed as something that directly affects a teacher and a child in the classroom even though we know it does,” Emerson said.
Board member Karen South Carpenter said she thinks the board should name the central office a priority if it is the most pressing need.
“In trying to prioritize this list of needs, even though it isn’t a facility used by students, is it the biggest need?” Carpenter asked. If a new central office is the system’s top priority, she added, it needs to be recognized as that, even though “It may not be politically astute.”
Carpenter asked Miller which should be the top priority, a replacement school for Woodleaf or a new central office.
“You’re just asking me to split the baby” and choose between students and employees, he said.
Miller said he just couldn’t say one was needed more than the other.
Board members voted 6-to-1 to approve the list of capital requests. Carpenter cast the only dissenting vote.
Here’s the capital needs priority list, with associated costs, the board approved for this budget year:
1A. Land for an elementary school to replace Cleveland and Woodleaf, $1.5 million.
1B. A new school that would combine Cleveland and Woodleaf, $19.4 million.
2. A replacement for Knox Middle School, $24.3 million.
3. A new central office, $10.8 million. Miller said $10.8 million would be the cost to build a standalone central office on a site the school system already owns. The central office/conference center proposed for downtown Salisbury is projected to cost about $16.8 million, according to projections.
4A. Land for a middle school in the southwestern area of the county, $1.5 million.
4B. A new southwest area middle school, $22.6 million.
5. A new southern Rowan elementary school to be built on property on U.S. 29 the school system purchased in 2007, $15.6 million.
6. Ten additional classrooms for Koontz Elementary School, $1.9 million.
7. Instructional gyms for high schools, $8.2 million.
8. Instructional gyms for middle schools, $8.2 million.
Mark Wineka contributed to this story. Contact Holly Lee at 704-797-7683 or