Developer offers plans for central office downtown for schools

Published 12:00 am Friday, July 1, 2011

By Sarah Campbell
EAST SPENCER — The Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education voted unanimously Thursday to ask county commissioners for permission to go into a lease/purchase agreement with a private developer to build a central office.
Bryan Barwick, a developer with Barwick & Associates of Charlotte, presented plans for three-story 62,000-square-foot building to the board.
The total cost of the project would come in at more than $8.6 million, but a New Market Tax Credit of $1.5 million and a school board option to purchase fee of $200,000 would knock the final cost down to about $6.9 million.
During years eight and nine of the 25-year lease agreement, the district would have the option to buy the building for about $6 million.
The proposed facility would be built on Main Street in downtown Salisbury beside the former fitness club on land currently owned by the city.
Randy Hemann, executive director of Downtown Salisbury Inc., said the city is willing to donate the land, which is valued at $200,000.
But that decision will have to go before City Council.
Hemann said the public sector has played an important role in keeping downtown Salisbury vibrant with city offices and three county facilities.
“We talked about different public and private needs, but quite frankly, when we started to focus on a group that had greater needs, it became clear that we put together a proposal to bring to the school board,” Hemann said.
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School officials have been trying to get a central office building since Rowan County and Salisbury City schools merged in 1989.
Systemwide personnel currently work out of five offices spread across the county.
Superintendent Dr. Judy Grissom said many of those offices are aging and in need of substantial repairs. She said the Long Street Administrative Office in East Spencer has infrastructure needs that must be addressed.
“We are either going to have to bite the bullet and say we are going to move ahead or bite the bullet and say we are going to live here forever and put in $2 million to make it livable.”
School Board member Bryce Beard said the district would be moving backwards if it put in the $2 million for repairs to existing structures.
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Grissom said the school system will not have to begin making payments on the building until personnel moves in.
She said during that time the district can go ahead and put the Ellis Street office up for sale.
Gene Miller, assistant superintendent for operations, said the school system would also save about $200,000 a year on operations costs, to put toward the mortage. The combined facilties would eliminate duplicate data lines, custodial services, leases and utilities.
He said in 2015-16, the school system will complete its annual $2.2 million bond payments for the 1992 bond referendum, freeing up additional capital outlay dollars.
“There is a way for the board to make this work and not require a tax increase and not require any money from the county commissioners,” Miller said.
School board member Mike Caskey asked if going foward with the project would prevent the rebuilding Cleveland and Woodleaf elementary schools.
Miller said the school system would have to save for years to be able to build one school at a cost of about $12 million. He said without another bond referendum it’s unlikely that another school will be constructed for a while.
Beard said it’s time to move on the central office.
“We always come up with reasons that we can’t do it, like it might rain or the sky might fall,” he said. “At some point we have to get this done.”
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School board member Kay Wright Norman said this is the first community she’s ever lived in that didn’t have a central office.
“It’s a place that the community could be proud of, it’s a place that stood out in the community,” she said. “New people coming into the community need to know where they can go.”
Norman called Barwick’s presentation the best plan she’s seen in her more than 15 years on the board.
Last year, the county offered the former Department of Social Services building. The school board considered the offer in March and requested a feasibility study. Eventually, school officials concluded that the building does not meet their needs and it would cost too much to move operations there.
Miller said about four years ago the board received a plan to build a $10.5 million building, but the funding was never available.
“We are past the point of talking about it,” Norman said. “I think it’s time to do something about it.”
Commissioner Jon Barber attended Thursday’s meeting.
After the presentation, he said he supports the school system’s efforts to move downtown.
“Rowan County government is already heavily invested in downtown Salisbury with three fine buildings. This proposal just brings Rowan-Salisbury Schools up to par with those buildings,” he said. “(It) will support the vitality and redevelopment of downtown Salisbury.”
Contact reporter Sarah Campbell at 704-797-7683.