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School board moves ahead with central office — a ‘gift of closure’

EAST SPENCER — Because of the many years, even decades, the building of a new central administrative office for Rowan-Salisbury Schools has been discussed, debated and delayed, Thursday seemed like a historic moment.

The Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education voted 5-2 Thursday to accept verified bids for a new central office building to be constructed at 500 N. Main St. in Salisbury. The final price tag: $7,984,503.

“It is time,” BOE Chairman Richard Miller said, “that the building of the central office stop being used as a political sabre to slice and dice the Board of Education and the greater Rowan-Salisbury community with political agendas that have no standing in supporting improved student achievement.”

Voting for the central office were Miller, Kay Wright Norman, L.A. Overcash, Jean Kennedy and Susan Cox. Board members Josh Wagner and Charles Hughes voted no.

A similar 5-2 vote approved a contract with Barnhill Contracting for a guaranteed maximum price of $7,404,503. The school system’s final cost will be more when $330,000 in architectural and engineering fees, $45,000 for soil tests, $30,000 for furniture and equipment and a $175,000 contingency are added in.

For now, revenues available for the project are $8,025,000. That figure includes $6.5 million approved by the Rowan County Board of Commissioners, $875,000 from the Robertson Family Foundation, a $500,000 city of Salisbury contribution and $150,000 from another donor.

For now, a $200,000 dome on the proposed 48,000-square-foot building is not included.

“We have enough funds to get the project moving and get it underway,” Assistant Superintendent Anthony Vann told the board.

Hughes said the central office will not educate one child and that it has been a wrong priority for the board for the past two years. Interestingly, Thursday’s meeting was the last as sitting board members for Norman and Overcash, who both supported the central office.

They were defeated Tuesday in re-election bids.

Before the votes, Miller gave an impassioned speech for presenting “the gift of closure” to the incoming Board of Education on the central office issue.

“By so doing,” he added, “the board can truly focus on the other important issues of improved student achievement and performance excellence of the system.”

Vann said the schools system will now send the approved project to county commissioners as a step toward Local Government Commission approval of financing. The school system also can start looking at dates for a groundbreaking, he said.

In asking his fellow board members to approve the project, Miller said it was time the Board of Education showed courage, fortitude “and most of all leadership to end this 25-year drain of energy and resources from our school system and community.”

Miller added it was time to recognize that a state-of-the-art central office was necessary toward achieving student, staff and community excellence.

He said an efficiently functional central office supports every classroom daily with teaching, safety, food service, student transportation, special needs, parent, physical plant and financial support.

“Excellence is not achieved in isolation,” Miller said.

Vann detailed for the board a bid tab summary and how Barnhill Contracting, administrative staff, architects and engineers found $553,668 in changes, or “value-engineering items,” to reach Barnhill’s final price of $7,404,503.

Vann said the exterior of the building will not change and that all of the changes were in “interior and behind-the-wall items.”

Wagner pressed Miller to guarantee no more money will be needed and nothing will be added.

“This will cover everything?” Wagner asked.

“As presented,” Miller said, adding something such as the dome could return, but only if there’s an outside donation.

“I agree we need to do something and move on,” Wagner said before the decisive votes.

Cox recalled that at her first school board meeting two years ago she said the central office issue should be put to rest, but since that day she has seen it delayed while the costs have gone up, Meanwhile, the administration has been working out of and trying to maintain five different locations, she said.

From July 2013 to this past February, she had to sit through “political agenda games’ as the delays continued, Cox said. She described herself as conservative and frugal with her personal finances but she did not want to see the central office delayed one more day, so the schools could get on with other business.

Miller made a case that the schools system stood to lose roughly $3.2 million of revenue for the central office if the board didn’t proceed with the North Main Street location.

He said there were $342,938 in architectural/engineering fees spent on the first building design, $119,451 on a third building design, $295,775 on a fourth building design and $40,000 on a separate engineering redesign. Those things totaled $798,164, Miller said.

Add to that $1,025,000 in private monies available for a downtown site and $500,000 from the city of Salisbury for a downtown site, In addition, Miller said, the school system lost $975,100 worth of site work, abatement testing, data wiring, site lighting, building demolition, water-sewer and sidewalks the city of Salisbury had provided or offered at the earlier South Main Street site.

“This is the primary explanation why a smaller structure (on North Main Street) has similar costs to the last bid of the larger one,” Miller said.

Wagner and Hughes expressed concerns that the project, as outlined, won’t be using many local subcontractors, but Vann and representatives of Barnhill detailed their efforts and deadline extensions in trying to have local subcontractors compete in the bidding process.

Some 250 subcontractors submitted proposals, but many local subcontractors decided against filling out the required paperwork. A Salisbury company will be doing the casework, but otherwise the closest subcontractors are from Kannapolis and Mooresville.

“Over the years,” Miller said, “several of you have heard me use the phrase, ‘There is never a wrong time to do the right thing,’ For me, there is no more appropriate time than now to apply this phrase to the completion of the central office project.”

During a public comment period earlier in Thursday’s meeting, Salisbury resident Ronnie Smith reminded board members he had extended conversations with each of them, raising his concerns about the site selection process for a North Main Street central office.

But he said he had yet to hear feedback from the board members and asked what they were hiding. He said he also has met with Superintendent Lynn Moody and offered several proposals to fund a new foundation that could be used to pay for a new central office without the use of public funds.

Smith said he wished he could present his proposal to the full board but has been denied that opportunity.

In another matter Thursday, the Board of Education approved the hiring of Brooke Zehmer as the new principal of Landis Elementary School.

Zehmer will become the Landis principal effective Jan. 1, 2015. She currently is an assistant principal at Donna Lee Loflin and Lindley Park elementary schools in Asheboro. She has a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education from James Madison University and a master of school administration degree from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

There were 27 applicants for the position.

Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263.

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