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Joint Planning Committee holds first meeting, discusses capital projects

The Joint Planning Committee dictated by the mediated settlement agreement between county commissioners and the Rowan-Salisbury School Board met for the first time Tuesday.
In an attempt to foster better communication between the two entities, the group will discuss the district’s three recently approved capital projects, help create a Capital Improvement Plan and address the long-term needs of the district.
“This is a much better atmosphere than we’ve had in the past,” said Craig Pierce, vice chairman of the Rowan County Board of Commissioners, referring to the commissioners’ and school board’s recent tense mediation discussions.
The committee spent the majority of the meeting sharing the progress of the school system’s three capital projects: a central administrative office, renovations to Knox Middle School and consolidating Woodleaf and Cleveland elementary schools in the western part of the county.
The district hopes to secure a property for the central office in the next few weeks.
While nothing is set in stone, the property located on the 500-block of N. Main St. is under consideration. The land has been appraised for $846,000.
The Phase One study for the property came back clean, according to Assistant Superintendent of Operations Anthony Vann.
The school system is checking on possible minor asbestos problems in one of the buildings that would be demolished, but district leaders said there were no real problems with the property.
The district is also trying to figure out how much the current plans must be revised to work at that location.
The school board decided to utilize a construction manager at risk in order to better control price of the central office and to stay within their $6.5 million budget.
The school board will advertise and take applications from construction managers, then narrow down the candidates they want to interview.
Vann said the district would hope to find local contractors to do the job, a decision that could pour funds back into the community through sales tax and employment.
In addition, the district received an additional $500,000 donation for the central office from the Robertson Foundation, for a total of $850,000. The money, although initially intended for a dome, can be used for anything pertaining to the central office as long as the facility is located in downtown Salisbury.
The committee discussed how to proceed in the consolidation of Woodleaf and Cleveland elementary schools.
“It’s a sensitive issue already,” Pierce said.
In order to get input from the communities the consolidation will affect, he suggested holding a public forum at each school.
Because of terms agreed to in the mediation agreement with commissioners, the school board must consolidate the two schools, rather than rebuild or repair one or both of the outdated facilities.
Moody suggested providing a prototype at the public forums so parents could “visualize where their children could go” and build excitement within the community.
The current buildings aren’t efficient, Moody explained. Smaller schools mean duplicated staff and old buildings mean inefficient utilities.
Moody said studies show 600 to 750 students is the most effective size for an elementary school.
The school system doesn’t have any set plans for the facility, but discussion about modifying existing plans and an “x” shaped layout were discussed.
The committee suggested looking into the feasibility of using property adjacent to West Rowan Middle School.
No one in attendance knew how large the property is or if building an elementary school on it was feasible, but Moody said the location was “definitely worth investigating.”
Committee members also discussed the possibilities for the current Woodleaf and Cleveland facilities once they’re vacated.
The intent of the school board is to give the buildings and property back to the community in some way.
The committee discussed allowing the communities have input in how the properties are used, but also presented several options including a homework station, library, fire station or a sheriff’s outpost.
As for renovations to Knox Middle School, Moody said the district is focusing on finding a principal for the school before making any decisions about the school’s future.
“We haven’t tackled it at all. We need to get the right leader in the building,” she said.
The Joint Planning Committee also discussed how the group should operate.
Commissioner Mike Caskey and school board member Josh Wagner will serve as co-chairs to the committee. County and school system staff will attend to participate in conversation and make suggestions, but will not vote on decisions.
School board clerk, Patty Overcash will put together the agenda and distribute the meeting notice. County clerk Carolyn Barger will compile the minutes from each meeting.
The committee will meet either monthly or bimonthly on the second Tuesday, based on current project needs.
Meetings will be held in the J. Newton Cohen, Sr. room on the second floor of the Rowan County Administration Building, 130 West Innes Street in Salisbury.
The committee’s next meeting will be June 10, and school staff and board members will update county personnel on the progress on the central office.

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