My Turn: Central office proposal offers many benefits
By Randy Hemann
Several months ago, developer Brian Barwick came to Salisbury looking for a project. When I checked on Brian I discovered that he had just completed an award winning cotton mill renovation in Rock Hill.
When I asked about him, I was told “he’s on the top of our list” and “he delivers what he says he will deliver.” When I met him, his passion for completing catalyst projects was evident. When he asked about needs in the community, I told him how the school system has been attempting to consolidate operations into a central office for 22 years and how schoo leaders have, without any success, looked at around 10 different locations/options during the 14 years I have been in Salisbury.
At my suggestion we began looking at alternatives for a Rowan-Salisbury School System central office. Our first efforts were concentrated on the potential reuse of existing buildings, but as in the previous efforts I mentioned, we found this was not a viable option. At that point we began designing a new building that would meet RSSS needs. We have proposed a 62,000-square-foot building at the corner of Horah and Main streets. This land is owned by the city and has ample parking. The building would be designed to meet the needs of RSSS. It is a handsome building but by no means opulent. It would be built to last and would serve RSSS for many years to come.
There are many people hurting in this economy, and I understand the reluctance to say now is the time to build a central office. However, when I look at the facts, I must conclude otherwise. We are now in a period where new construction costs 20-25 percent less than five or six years ago. Should we wait for costs to go up before building? The developer at the table now has the ability to bring the benefit of $1.5 million in tax credits to the table; tax credits that amount to around 17 percent of the total project cost; tax credits available at this site that may not may be available at other sites — or at all in the future. Should we wait until they are gone to do this project?
We have a developer who is willing to finance the project AND give RSSS the benefit of all the principal reduction while the system is leasing the building. This is quite uncommon in real estate development and helps the school system reduce the purchase price if it chooses to purchase during the option period. This will mean a reduction of the purchase price of the building when the school system is able to buy the building.
The proposal on the table now allows the school system all the benefits listed above, plus the ability to move into a facility without a down payment (the tax credits make this possible). Should we wait for a project that requires $1 million or more in upfront money before taking action on a need that has been present for 22 years?
There has been a lot of misinformation promulgated concerning this proposal. Building a central office or maintaining schools is not a simple either/or proposition. Our schools can be maintained, and we can have a central office. If we do not build a central office, that does not mean that schools will get built instead. Replacing Cleveland, Woodleaf and Knox comes with a price tag of around $55 million and will only be achieved with a bond referendum. Since the 1992/93 bond referendum, more than $154 million has gone into school construction and renovation, while no money has gone into creating a central office. RSSS has a track record of spending on the schools and the children.
There is a demonstrated need for a new central office, and the proposal before RSSS has many benefits that make it worthwhile, benefits that make now the time to build. My desire is that as the public weighs in on this issue, it will not do so based on feelings or philosophy but on examination of the facts. Let’s make a decision based on the merits of the project, not on the emotion of the times.
Randy Hemann is executive director of Downtown Salisbury, Inc.
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