Commissioners eye other options
By Sarah Campbell
SALISBURY — The Rowan County Board of Commissioners will meet later this month to discuss options for a Rowan-Salisbury School System central office.
Those include building next to Isenberg Elementary, buying Cornerstone Church’s property on Webb Road and adding another building to the Ellis Street property.
But Gene Miller, the district’s assistant superintendent, said those options could end up costing more than the proposal to build at 62,000 square-foot facility in downtown Salisbury.
The district purchased a total of 40 acres of land on Jake Alexander Boulevard in the 1970s. Since then, Isenberg Elementary was built on half the property.
In the past, school board members have suggested building a replacement for Knox Middle School on the remaining parcel, but Miller said it’s too small.
Facility guidelines from the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction recommend at least 15 acres plus one acre per 100 students for a fifth- through eighth-grade school and a minimum of 20 acres along with one acre per 100 students for a seventh- through ninth-grade school.
“It’s not big enough because of the athletic fields,” Miller said.
Miller said the district has no plans for the property, but its close proximity to the Crescent Golf Club makes it a prime piece of real estate.
“We’ve got golf course lots available to be sold out there if the Board of Education should ever decide to sell it,” he said.
But the board turned down an offer from an undisclosed buyer in August 2009, offering $525,000 for 15 acres.
Miller said the lot is big enough for a central office, but it would likely cost more because the site would not be eligible for the $1.5 million in New Market tax credits like the downtown office. “I’m looking at some figures right now and I can tell you that it’s not going to be cheaper than going downtown,” he said. “The city has offered to build us a parking lot, that’s a quarter of a million dollars right there.”
Cornerstone Church’s board of directors sent a letter of intent to the school system in December, offering their buildings and nearly 9 acres of lands for the central office.
The price tag on the offer ranges from $3 and $4 million, which is lower than the original proposal of $4.5 to $5.5 million.
The school system was interested in purchasing the Cornerstone property last year, but Miller said there were no funds available at that time.
The offer reappeared after commissioners Carl Ford and Jim Sides approached Bill Godair, the church’s lead pastor.
But Miller said the property comes up short on meeting the district’s space needs, which means another 20,000- square-foot building would have to be constructed.
Renovations could also become costly.
“Godair’s buildings are not as great as he says they are because there are lots of big rooms that are going to have to be renovated into offices and cubicle space, and you don’t do that for free,” Miller said. “All of a sudden, this $4 million building has turned out to be somewhere between $8.7 million and $9.7 million.
“So far, that’s the most expensive proposition on the table and those aren’t my figures, these are an architect’s figures.”
Miller said he’s been consulting with an architect since the latest proposal was made.
“We never made an offer before and if we had gone any further, we wouldn’t have made an offer because we would have come to the same conclusion we have right now, it’s not going to be big enough and it’s going to cost too much,” he said.
Miller said the district might be able to get approval for the $1.5 million in tax credits if it decides to build at its Ellis Street Administrative Office property, but these changes are not as good as the downtown location.
“Part of the tax credit is that you have to show that by doing the renovation or the addition that you are going to be creating jobs in that area,” he said.
And Miller said there could be some other hurdles along the way.
“We’d have to go through the historical foundation to get approval because there is that old building in the way and it would have to come down,” he said.
Miller said the lot is about 3.6 acres.
“It’s not a real big site,” he said. “To get all the parking and the building in there, it would be fairly tight.”
Social services building
Sides said Tuesday the former Department of Social Services building has been renovated and could hold the system’s Long Street employees, but the district has turned it down.
But Miller said the school board didn’t just simply turn down the offer.
“We toured the DSS building and said we’re going to have to upgrade this building because it does not have a technology hub” he said.
Miller said the district estimated between a half million and $1 million in renovations to the facility to meet the district’s needs.
“We asked (commissioners) if they would pay for that, and they said no,” Miller said. “To say that we just turned it down is absolutely not true.”
County Commissioners will meet at 3 p.m. Jan. 25 to discuss the options. Ford said he’s got about eight possibilities in mind, which he has yet to disclose.
Contact reporter Sarah Campbell at 704-797-7683.
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