Downtown still first choice for schools' central office

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, January 10, 2012

By Sarah Campbell
EAST SPENCER — Members of the Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education made it clear Monday, the location of the consolidated central office lies in their hands and downtown Salisbury is still the top choice.
That declaration is in response to the Rowan County Board of Commissioners’ decision to hold a special meeting to discuss other options for the administrative offices.
“It is a matter of control and I think for our board we have to make the decision,” school board member Kay Wright Norman said. “We know exactly what our legal authorities are and if this continues I blame our board because we have taken every step to do what we are supposed to do at this point.
“The ball is in our court, we simply need to play.”
Gene Miller, the district’s assistant superintendent of operations, presented the plan to build 62,000 square-foot central office in the 300 block of South Main Street to county commissioners last week.
Commissioners have expressed concerns about the financial details of the proposal, which include a lease-purchase agreement through private developer Bryan Barwick or a conventional loan through the county.
Total annual payments for the office under a lease-purchase agreement with a 4.5 percent interest rate would equal roughy $9.5 million and require no upfront money.
But Miller said Barwick confirmed Friday that he would be able to get a lower interest rate of 3.95 percent, which would knock about $200,000 off the final price tag.
If commissioners took out a loan with a 3.5 percent interest rate, the cost of the building would come in at about $9.8 million. But they could likely borrow the money at 3 percent or less depending on the market.
A variety of other options have been thrown out by commissioners, including utilizing land adjacent to Isenberg Elementary, adding onto the Ellis Street Administrative Office site and taking over the Cornerstone Church property on Webb Road.
But school board member Bryce Beard said all those sites have the same thing in common, they would require a loan taken out through the county.
“I think it’s important to talk about the objections to sites in the past,” he said. “The No. 1 being that we don’t have the money.”
Beard said the sites also lack the amount of space needed to consolidate all five official locations or require costly renovations to meet the district’s needs.
“We’re at the moment of truth,” he said. “We need a collaborative, corporative effort to make it happen.”
But Beard said collaboration doesn’t mean giving in to what commissioners believe is best.
“We know what we need, we see it every day,” he said. “Once we pick the site, they can tell us yes or no.”
Miller said he has made it clear to county commissioners that state law mandates school boards have the authority to pick the site for building.
“We repeated that and I even passed out a legal opinion to that effect,” he said.
School board Chairman Dr. Jim Emerson said he doesn’t know why county commissioners are “bothering” to discuss different locations.
“If we’re the ones who are going to make the decision on the location of the site, their decision should be are they going to fund it or not.”
School board member Dr. Richard Miller said after 23 years of debate, the school board has shown due diligence on the topic of the central office.
“This is not something we have lightly gone into because this proposal was put on the table,” he said. “It’s now time to make a decision.”
Beard and Gene Miller are planning to attend the county commoners’ meeting at 3 p.m. Jan. 25 to provide feedback.
Contact reporter Sarah Campbell at 704-797-7683.