School board looking to choose plan on Monday

Published 12:00 am Sunday, February 5, 2012

By Sarah Campbell
EAST SPENCER — If things go the way the school board chief plans, the Rowan-Salisbury School System will be making plans for its central office Tuesday.
Board of Education Chairman Dr. Jim Emerson said he hopes board members will come to a decision about the location of the central office and end the 23-year conversation Monday during the board’s special meeting.
“I’d like for us as a board to get through this and get on with the job of either renovating an older building or going with a new one,” he said.
At least three options are on the table for discussion Monday, including Post Publishing Co.’s three buildings on South Main Street, the former MI Window and Doors location on Heilig Road and the board’s proposal to build a new facility in downtown Salisbury though a lease-purchase agreement with a private developer.
“Those are the only ones I’ve heard of,” Emerson said. “I haven’t heard of anything new that anyone is gong to bring to the board, but you never know.”
Gene Miller, assistant superintendent of operations, said he hasn’t been approached with any other options either.
But he has heard the original downtown proposal to construct a 62,000 square foot building on the 300 block of South Main Street isn’t out of the question even though the Rowan County Board of Commissioners shot down approval to move forward with the plan.
Instead, the board passed a motion to allow the district to spend up to $6 million on a facility to consolidate its various administrative offices. It would be the first time all those functions were housed together since the county and city school districts combined in 1989.
The project has a nearly $9.4 million price tag.
“I do know that there are some influential people and groups that might be interested in trying to raise money for the project,” Miller said.
The proposed sale price for the Post Publishing property, including Elizabeth Court as well as the Leonard and Oestricher buildings, comes in at $1.2 million. It would take an estimated $2.8 million to upfit them for the school district’s use, according figures provided by the company.
Board members toured the buildings Monday, but walked away with more questions than answers, citing concerns about limited parking and unknowns about the structural integrity and environmental safety.
“It certainly probably has the possibility of meeting our space needs,” Miller said. “It has some challenges, of course of the biggest ones being parking and the fact that it’s so cut up.”
Emerson called the buildings a “labyrinth” Monday to describe how the difficulty of traveling throughout the buildings.
Miller said the MI Window and Doors location hasn’t been officially offered, but he has received some emails about it. And school board member Mike Caskey has suggested the site as a possibility to a Post reporter.
The 150,000 square-foot building with 150 parking spaces is on the market for $3.5 million.
But Miller said the building is likely not suitable for a central office.
“It’s a metal warehouse, it’s really not an office complex,” he said.
And Miller said he’s heard rumors that the former manufacturing warehouse might be an option for companies looking to move into Rowan County.
“We wouldn’t want to take something off the tax base or take away an option for somebody who’s looking to locate here,” he said.
Miller said he stand by his original recommendation to build downtown rather than renovate an existing structure.
“It’s up to the board now to decide what to do,” he said. “My hope is that they’l make a decision so that we can get going in a direction with some option … I really do think it’s going to happen now.”
Emerson wouldn’t disclose which option he’s planning to support, but he has mentioned the possibility of raising funds to proceed with the original downtown proposal .
“Regardless of what the county commissioners have said, I think our needs and our wants coincide. We didn’t’ ask for a bigger building than we need.”
Commissioner Jim Sides has questioned whether the school system really needed 62,000 square feet. School officials stand by the figure, citing a 2007 space plan done by architect Bill Burgin that show at least 60,000 square feet are needed.
Miller has said 62,000 will give the district to grow.
But Emerson said he does have an opinion about the fate of the central office.
“I don’t think I ought to publicize that right now, but I will certainly express it Monday night,” he said. “I know what I want to talk about and I know there will probably be six other opinions.”
County Commissioners will consider approving a commitment letter to the school board regarding the central office during their meeting Monday.
The letter serves as notification that the board will provide up to $6 million toward efforts to locate and build a new central office.
“These funds have no restrictions and shall supplement whatever additional funds you are able to obtain through grants or gifts to build the new facility,” the letter states. “We acknowledge our commitment of $6 million was not the level of funding you desired, but it will fund 45,000 square feet of your goal of 62,000 square feet.
“At this point we would suggest you continue you efforts to make the best decision for the school system, students and taxpayers of Rowan County in your central office decision.”
The school board will meet at 5 p.m. Monday at the Long Street Administrative Office in East Spencer.
Contact reporter Sarah Campbell at 704-797-7683.
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