Rowan commissioners reject central office funding

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, February 5, 2013

SALISBURY — A year after county commissioners agreed to borrow $6 million for a Rowan-Salisbury School system central office, a reconfigured board voted Monday against funding the project at the downtown Salisbury site selected by school system leaders.

At a meeting Monday afternoon, commissioners voted 3-2 against funding the project that would consolidate the school central office in a 62,000-square-foot site on South Main Street.

The vote jeopardizes more than a year of planning for the project.

Commissioners and school board members were expected to speak about the proposal at a joint meeting Thursday at Hood Theological Seminary. The meeting remains scheduled.

Following a few brief agenda items and a public comment period, Commissioner Jon Barber moved to reaffirm the board’s commitment to the funding.

Barber told the board he still supported last year’s decision to fund $6 million in unrestricted funds for the project.

“We shouldn’t micromanage our school system’s decisions. That’s not our role,” Barber said. “The school board is held accountable by the voters. The administrators are held accountable by the school board. The teachers and staff are held accountable by the administrators. It is not our place to meddle.”

Commissioner Chad Mitchell seconded the motion, adding the site needed to meet specified qualifications before the deal was finalized.

“While I have supported the $6 million to the central office and I do support the school board selecting the site for that central office, the site that they have currently selected has some serious issues with it that, at least before the project went any further down the road, has to be cleared up as far as I see it before the board is willing to take property ownership,” Mitchell said.

But Chairman Jim Sides, and commissioners Craig Pierce and Mike Caskey voted down the proposal, citing continued contamination findings at the South Main Street site where a service station once stood.

Vice-Chairman Pierce said he could not vote for the proposal because of the contamination.

“For us to even consider this funding, I feel like it’s a dereliction of duty for the commissioners to even entertain this until we have a site that’s acceptable and buildable,” Pierce said.

“We don’t know when that’s going to be. Until we have that there’s no way I can support the funding.”

In October, state officials found three underground tanks that surprised city officials.

Two months later, four more tanks were found, along with soil contamination.

After killing the motion, the board also voted to offer two former Department of Social Services buildings on West Innes Street and Mahaley Avenue to the school system, along with a $250,000 interest-free loan to outfit the buildings.

Chairman Sides called the proposal a “lateral move” that would allow school administrators a temporary location until a permanent central office is built.

Following the meeting, Sides said the buildings do not have “major issues” but admitted some repairs would be necessary.

“We felt it would be remiss to not give them an option,” Sides said. “So we’re going to give them an option.”

School board member Susan Cox attended Monday’s meeting.

In a phone interview Monday night, Cox said the vote didn’t surprise her. But it was still disappointing. The newly elected board member said the Innes Street building would need repairs to its wiring and plumbing.

“I don’t see that it’s a viable option,” Cox said. “I don’t know that they looked at all the information before they made that offer.”

Referencing a 2002 bond campaign that outlined a 6.5-cent property tax increase to fund the bond, School Board Chairman Richard Miller said if county commissioners levied more than 2.5-cents, the school system could have already had the proper funding for the proposed central office.

“Had the county commissioners funded the capital bonds that had already been passed by the electorate, we would have had not only enough money for the central office but to fund other school construction projects,” Miller said. “Today wouldn’t have been a discussion.”

Contact reporter Nathan Hardin at 704-797-4246.