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School board shifts priority to consolidated elementary school

The Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education has put plans for a new Knox Middle School on hold, while directing its attention toward consolidating Cleveland and Woodleaf elementary schools.

The school board met Monday to prioritize its most urgent capital needs before its budget retreat with county commissioners next week.

“We have looked at the fact that we’ll probably need some more money,” said Chairman of the Board Josh Wagner.

Last year, the school board and the commissioners came to a mediated agreement that appropriated $40.5 million for three major capital projects. The first of those projects – a consolidated central office – broke ground last Saturday.

The remaining $34 million from the mediated agreement was intended to go toward Knox and a consolidated elementary school.

But the school system’s capital needs go far beyond $34 million. In fact, it’s more than double that figure at $77.5 million.

The Knox and elementary school projects are estimated at $44 million combined – $21 million for Knox and $23 million for the elementary school. On top of that, the district has $15 million in roofing needs, $6.5 million in paving needs and $5 million in general maintenance needs, for a total of $33.5 million.

Travis Allen, the board representative from the county’s western district said that the Woodleaf and Cleveland project keeps getting delayed each time it’s brought up as a top priority.

“I feel bad about putting off Woodleaf and Cleveland again,” he said. “Hundred-year-old buildings aren’t going to get any newer.”

Although there was originally great resistance against combining the two schools by the west Rowan community, Allen said they’ve come to accept the consolidation.

Board member Jean Kennedy pointed out that Woodleaf Elementary’s water and sewer issues make the consolidated elementary school a priority.

If the school’s well were to go out, Woodleaf’s students would be displaced.

“I don’t think we’re in a position to put those students anywhere,” Wagner said.

Vice Chairman Dean Hunter said that since Knox is still functional, he too believes the elementary school should be the district’s first priority.

“It seems like a replacement is more critical than an update,” he said.

“It seems like we certainly believe that there’s a need for both of those schools,” he added, noting that the board seemed to be in agreement that the West Rowan elementary school is a more pressing need at this time.

“Knox is definitely an important part also,” Allen added, saying that the board should find a way to begin work on Knox immediately after everything is in place for the new elementary school.

“I would like to see something very special for Knox,” he said. “I just don’t know the site they’re on is what I’d like to see for them.”

The board unanimously approved Dr. Richard Miller’s motion to make the West Rowan elementary school the district’s top priority for the remaining funds from the mediated agreement. The $11 million still available after the elementary school is built should go toward roofing and safety needs, as prioritized by available data.

Hunter said the board needs to identify and prioritize the most critical safety and roofing needs to be met first.

Per the mediated agreement between the school board and county commissioners, the commissioners must approve any reprioritization of funds before they can be reassigned to other projects.

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