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Editorial: Central office search not over 'till it's over

After months of budget-cutting for local and state government, Rowan residents may have been surprised that talk of a new school headquarters came up last week. But this is a 21-year-old need that has yet to be addressed. It’s not going away until the issue is resolved. This may be the best option yet.
Here’s a timeline of sites and discussions from the past three years:
• South Main, January 2008: City and school officials discuss building a consolidated school office and city conference center in the 300 block of South Main Street for $16.8 million.
• Old Winn Dixie, March 2008: School officials consider a former supermarket on Jake Alexander Boulevard. At 43,000 square feet, it will need an additional level to meet the system’s needs of 55,000-65,000 square feet. That and the purchase could add up to $5 million to $7 million.
• More sites, January-February 2009: Five sites are on the table: The two above plus sites on Old Concord Road, Ellis Street and Statesville Boulevard. School officials favor downtown. County officials discuss splitting the cost with the school system, and the project gains momentum. Carl Ford, then chairman of the board of commissioners, says, “I can reiterate, there is a consensus. We want consolidation, we want to do something. Everyone has agreed on that.”
• Delay, March 2009: Superintendent Dr. Judy Grissom withdraws the central office issue from the county agenda, citing the governor’s move to take lottery and school capital building funds.
• Old DSS building, January-March 2010: With the Department of Social Services moving into a new $6 million building, commissioners discuss offering the old DSS building at 1236 W. Innes to the schools. At 22,000 square feet, it’s big enough to replace much of the system’s Long Street offices, which are 29,000 square feet, but not big enough to consolidate other offices.
• Cornerstone Church, November 2010: After buying property near China Grove, Cornerstone offers its Webb Road property for sale. In a newspaper column, Grissom says, “I personally do not see public funding being provided for this project,” referring to a new central office at any location. “It will take interested private partnerships to realize the dream of finally merging the former city and county school systems.”
• South Main Street, July 2011: Back where we started, minus a conference center. Downtown Salisbury Inc. brings in developer Barwick & Associates of Charlotte with plans to build a 62,000-square-foot building for about $8 million in the 300 block of South Main. The school system could acquire it through lease-purchase.
So it begins again. This plan does not require huge, up-front money from the schools or the county. That’s a plus. It brings more people downtown, another plus. Let’s find out more. Commissioners should approach the proposal with an open mind and a sharp pencil.

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