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My Turn: Why downtown?

By Georgellen Agner Goss
Why has the Rowan-Salisbury School Board decided to locate the new consolidated administrative offices in downtown Salisbury? How does locating the RSS office downtown benefit students?
I am not questioning the merits of providing new administrative offices. For purposes of this article, I am assuming that the School Boardís recommendation is sound.
However, the School Board has not made a compelling case that it is in the best interests of the schools for the offices to be placed downtown.
One reason cited for combining scattered administrative offices into a single building is to cut back on duplicate expenses. These savings will be realized regardless of where the consolidated office is located. If the goal is to cut expenses, then being downtown is not the best answer.
If the goal is to enable school officials to work together more efficiently, then a consolidated office located anywhere in the county would accomplish this goal.
If the goal is for administrators to better focus on studentsí education, then being downtown is not only unnecessary but actually has some drawbacks.
Is there a legitimate educational reason for placing the offices downtown? I canít think of one.
Plainly there is another agenda ó to increase business in downtown Salisbury. The Downtown Salisbury group has made no bones about it ó they want the offices downtown. Looking out for the best interests of our downtown merchants is this groupís reason for existence, so thatís expected.
But the focus of the School Board should not be on improving business in downtown Salisbury. The School Boardís duty is to use the resources available to provide the best education possible for the students of this county. Building new offices in downtown Salisbury seems contrary to that fiduciary duty. This downtown office building will needlessly usurp more resources than necessary. The need can be met elsewhere, in another, cheaper location. Take advantage of the sour economy and obtain a more economical building. Placing the offices downtown will unnecessarily divert present and future resources that could be used to support and improve our schools.
My point is not that resources will have to be diverted to provide a new administrative building. Itís that I question whether the money being diverted is going to be spent prudently.
The figures quoted in the July news article said that a developer will construct the office building and then sell it to the school system after eight or nine years at a reduced price. The article didnít mention what the rent will be for the eight or nine years that the schools are leasing the facility. Whatever the rent is, the developer will collect enough to cover the cost of the mortgage, and in addition will take a profit for himself. So how exactly is this plan benefiting taxpayers and the school children in Rowan County? Show us how we will be better off with your plan.
Disclosing the costs and overall financial picture would help us understand why this is a sound decision. Taxpayers are footing the bill, and we deserve to know the true costs of the proposal.
If a new consolidated administrative office is truly needed ó and I am not doubting that it is ó there are numerous commercial and institutional sites in Rowan County available at bargain prices. Please, members of the School Board, do your duty and consider them in earnest. We are relying on you to have as your primary concern the education of our countyís children. Donít allow someone to muddy the waters by painting a pretty picture of what downtown Salisbury could look like. Focus on what is best for the students of Rowan County.

Georgellen Agner Goss is a native Salisburian with a long-term interest and involvement in local education.
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