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County to offer funds for new consolidated school in western Rowan

SALISBURY — Rowan County leaders will offer to fund up to $22 million for a new consolidated elementary school in the western part of the county after the board voted 3-2 on Monday.
Vice Chairman Craig Pierce added the plan to fund the once-controversial school to Monday’s special meeting agenda. Commissioners Chad Mitchell and Mike Caskey approved the idea.
The new school would serve the students of Woodleaf and Cleveland communities.
Pierce called the conditions at Woodleaf Elementary “horrendous” and said the school is currently providing water for school facilities by truck and dealing with ongoing septic troubles.
Both elementary schools, he said, are very old and need to be replaced.
But Chairman Jim Sides and Commissioner Jon Barber voted against the measure.
Barber said community members were adamant?against a consolidated school when the plan cropped up more than five years ago.
“If we had put community input in before the proposal, I would feel much more satisfied,” Barber said.
Sides said he would not vote for the school because the county has several offers on the table with the school system and would like to see some of the matters resolved in case the board overextends itself financially.
“My argument all along has been I’m willing to meet any capital needs the schools have or identify, but with funding streams that we have. I see no reason to raise taxes in order to do that.”
Sides pointed out two revenue streams for the project: lottery funds and state-generated sales tax money that is allocated for the county to use on capital needs.
The lottery funds are allocated until 2020 and the sales tax is being used to pay down debt service used on other buildings.
“We’re actually using that money right now and that money is tied up until 2017.”
But other commissioners argued that it would take time for the school system to choose a location and draw up plans.
Commissioner Chad Mitchell said he supported the measure, in part, because it shows that the county is looking for ways to solve the schools’ capital needs.
“I?hope that this sends the signal that, at least I intend it to send, is that we can still have those meetings (to discuss capital needs with school officials), that here is an option. It’s something that we can move with. That there is a willingness on this board to make some dents in the facility needs of our school system.”
When reached by phone Monday evening, School Board Chairman Richard Miller said the school board would discuss the offer.
“I’ll take it to our meeting tomorrow night,” Miller said Monday evening. “Since we were going to discuss the mediation, this certainly has an impact on that.”
County?Manager Gary Page said the county wouldn’t have the same increased tax threshold for the West Rowan elementary school if it takes school officials a few years to get the facility constructed.
“By the time they have their public meetings, by the time they pick a site, run it by the commissioners and get approval, by the time they spend six more months drawing the plans and putting it out to bid and by the time they got it constructed,” Page said, “you might be looking at two and a half years. And the point that came out tonight was, well, if it took two and a half years to plan for it and build it, by then we would have paid off some debt from 1993 and instead of raising taxes 1.5 to 2 cents you’d just take money from the debt that was paid off and recommit it to another project.”

Contact reporter Nathan Hardin at 704-797-4246.

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