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My Turn: Many factors favor downtown for school office

By Diane Young
The value a community places on public education says a lot about its character. Generally speaking, those communities that have chosen to treat public education as an important priority have benefitted from such well-placed policy. Localities that hold public education in high regard are the most likely to achieve economic viability and a desirable quality of life.
Salisbury and Rowan County have a unique opportunity to make a strong statement about its commitment to public education ó and, in turn, speak volumes about its commitment to future prosperity. The prospect of locating a new, central office facility in downtown Salisbury provides a once in a lifetime window to elevate public education as an important component of our community character. By investing in an impressive, well-designed and energy efficient building, strategically located within the central business district, Salisbury and Rowan County will advance the role of public education to be on equal footing with other, much-revered, community institutions.
It is no accident that the Chamber of Commerce, the Economic Development Commission, the Salisbury Post, city and county governments, most major banks, churches, the central library and numerous cultural institutions have maintained, or created, a strong physical presence within the our countyís center of commerce. A downtown Salisbury location establishes an institution or organization as an integral component of community life.
Letís make no mistake, however; the value of a downtown location goes far beyond mere symbolism. Proximity to the central business district provides many economic advantages and operational efficiencies. The lease purchase arrangement being proposed by a private developer yields a $1.5 million tax credit opportunity that represents a considerable savings to the public. The ability for school administrative employees to function beneath a single roof allows for improved efficiencies in communication, coordination and management that are not being achieved as result of the inherent inefficiencies of multiple, decentralized locations.
The proposed downtown building reduces transportation costs for school administrators who currently drive from the superintendentís office on North Ellis Street to the administrative office on North Long Street as a matter of unnecessarily wasteful, daily routine. The presence of existing water and sewer service minimizes the cost of extending utility infrastructure to a suburban building site. The 140 to 150 additional parking spaces planned for downtown the site will provide the dual purpose of accommodating automobiles for afterhours and weekend community functions such as the farmers market, parades and downtown festivals. The added benefit of school employees working in the downtown will have undeniable economic value to downtown merchants in terms of increased sales, which, in itself should not drive the location decision, but should be acknowledged as an intentional and positive consequence of public investment in the downtown location. The very idea that benefiting downtown businesses is somehow not in the best interest of the community is utter non-sense.
The opportunity to locate and build a school administrative office only comes along once in a great while. Letís not make a fool-hardy decision that our commitment to education should be reflected by a shortsighted decision to relegate an invaluable community institution to a cheaply constructed metal building on the outskirts of town ó out of sight, out of mind.
Salisbury, Rowan County and the children we are obligated to educate deserve better.

Diane Young lives in Salisbury where she owns property and is active in downtown redevelopment. She also serves as executive director of the Concord Downtown Development Corporation.
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ěMy Turnî columns should be between 500 and 700 words. E-mail submissions are preferred. Send to cverner@salisburypost.com with ěMy Turnî in the subject line. Include name, address, phone number and a digital photo of yourself if possible.

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