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Council approves of downtown school office

By Emily Ford
eford@salisburypost.com
SALISBURY ó Salisbury City Council members embraced a proposal to build the Rowan-Salisbury Schools central office downtown and said theyíre willing to donate land for the project.
ěWe want you downtown, and we would love you to anchor our south end and have all the school folks down there,î Mayor Paul Woodson said Tuesday. ěI think I speak for the whole council when I say weíd be delighted to have you there.î
Woodson called the school systemís proposal to enter a lease/purchase agreement with a Charlotte developer, which requires no upfront funding, ějust amazing.î
ěI donít see why you arenít starting construction,î he said.
Under the proposal, the city would give the school system a $200,000 parcel in the 300 block of South Main Street. The 62,000-square-foot, three-story building would stand on the southern portion of the lot, replacing a service station, interim City Manager Doug Paris said after the meeting.
The council also agreed to consider building and maintaining a 160-space parking lot on the same block. The current parking lot would provide some of those spaces, Paris said.
The former fitness building, which the city owns, would remain. The farmers market could remain and use the parking lot in off hours or propose a new location.
The $8.5 million project must clear several additional hurdles, including the Rowan County Board of Commissioners. Rumor has it some commissioners donít want the central office located in downtown, or even in Salisbury.
ěWhy would you not put it in a place where it’s going to have the most benefit,î Councilman Brian Miller said. ěWhy not put it where it does the most good?î
If located downtown, the central office would bring 150-plus jobs to the county seat, where employees would eat lunch, shop and run errands, City Council members said. Both city and county would benefit from sales tax revenues, they said.
The Council voted unanimously to direct interim City Manager Doug Paris to work with Rowan-Salisbury Schools officials to flesh out the details and bring them back to the city.
ěWe wholeheartedly support this,î Miller said.
But members of the Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education said Monday theyíre willing to compromise on the location of the central office.
Gene Miller, the districtís superintendent of operations, plans to take that message to the Rowan County Board of Commissioners Jan. 3. Miller told school board members two commissioners said they would support a new building, but not downtown.
Several of the five locations now used as a ěcentral officeî are in bad repair and will require millions of dollars in stabilization and restoration if commissioners donít approve a new building, Miller told City Council.
Mayor Pro Tem Susan Kluttz worked for the schools for eight years starting in 1989, when the city and county systems merged.
ěI saw firsthand the inefficiencies of a divided central office,î Kluttz said.
It makes sense to put the cental office where Salisbury can contribute land and a parking lot to help offset the cost for the county, she said.
ěI just hope the commissioners will see the wisdom in this,î Kluttz said.
Building a central office wonít take money away from teachers or materials, because revenue from two half-cent sales taxes used to pay for it can go only to construction, Council member Maggie Blackwell said.
If the school system does not build a central office, ěit does not mean we will have more money to hire institutional staff,î Gene Miller said.
ěIf you take the politics out of this, this is really not a hard decision,î he said.
Developer Bryan Barwick of Barwick & Associates in Charlotte would construct the building and then lease it to the system. By saving $200,000 on the land and receiving $1.5 million in New Market Tax Credits, the adjusted cost is $7.15 million.
For several years while the developer owns the property, the city and county both will receive about $135,000 in property tax revenue, Miller said.
Councilman William ěPeteî Kennedy said he campaigned on the downtown central office.
ěIím here saying I support it and hope we can get it,î Kennedy said.
During public comment, William Peoples said the city should not give away land bought with taxpayer dollars. Many rundown schools should be replaced before the system builds a new central office, he said.
Clyde said the city would take land off the tax books to construct the parking lot.
Gene Miller said the system has spent $156 million since 1992 on new school construction and building additional schools would require another bond referendum.
ěDonít the central office folks deserve to work in a clean and safe environment?î Miller said.
Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.

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