Committee discusses other western elementary sites

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 25, 2016

By Rebecca Rider

SALISBURY — Alternative locations for a consolidated western elementary school were the topic of discussion Tuesday at a Joint Planning Committee meeting between members of the Rowan County Board of Commissioners and the Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education. The committee met in the board room of the Wallace Educational Forum.

The Board of Education voted Monday to direct staff to search for alternate locations for the school, which had been planned for a parcel on the corner of N.C. 801 and Godbey Road. At an April town hall meeting for the Cleveland and Woodleaf communities, whose schools would be combined into the new elementary school, community members raised concerns about the property’s safety. The parcel lies adjacent to Southern Power, and off of an intersection that locals say is busy and dangerous.

“Are we eliminating the other? I guess technically we’re not, we’re still under contract with that, but we’re looking at other, alternate sites right now,” Board of Education member Dean Hunter said.

Hunter said a main concern the board had in a search for other locations was whether or not the alternates would be able to fit the new school building, which the board has already chosen plans for.

“I would hope that we could could acquire a property to put the plans on that I saw,” Jim Green, vice chairman of the Rowan County commissioners, said.

Green attended the western town hall meeting, where Thom Hughes, an architect with SfL+a Architects broke down the prototype design for the new school and how it would sit on the Godbey Road site.

“Folks going from a hundred-year-old building to a state-of-the-art elementary school seems to me to be something the public would be interested in for their kids. … The designs I saw were just absolutely beautiful,” Green said.

Board of Education Chairman Josh Wagner said if the board does go with an alternate site, there would be costs — and it wouldn’t be “chump change.”

The board has paid $10,000 in earnest money for the Godbey Road site, and spent about $50,000 in site preparation. But an alternate site with wastewater lines could save the board approximately $1 million to $1.2 million.

“If you’re talking about giving up $60,000 to get a million, I’ll do that all day,” he said.

When the board began looking at properties in 2014, Wagner has said, the Godbey Road property was the only real option.

“Some of these properties just came on the market, I’m sure that’s pure coincidence,” he said.

Wagner said the board hopes to have a called meeting after staff reports back with alternate sites on June 30. Green said the commissioners didn’t have any questions at the time.

“I’m sure there’ll be lots of questions once you locate the site and try to make a decision about whether to use the 801 site or an alternative,” Green said.

Hunter said that this time, the board would try to make sure the public is more aware and involved in the decision.

“I think it’s a wonderful idea. Now that the public knows that they’re looking, and they have looked at other sites in the past, but now maybe more land will be available that would suit the Board of Education better than what was for sale at the time that they were looking,” Green said after the meeting.

After the meeting, Commissioner Mike Caskey said when the Godbey Road site was being considered, he’d been aware that members of the public had safety concerns. He said he informed members of the Board of Education, who were aware of the issue. Caskey said he didn’t think it was necessary to raise those concerns “in a public way.”

The committee also spent a significant amount of time talking about its purpose. The agreement between the two boards states that the members should meet until the school system established a capital improvement plan and to monitor the use of $40.5 million the county agreed to pay the school system for use in building a central office, a new building for Knox Middle School, the new western rowan elementary school and approximately $6.5 million for capital outlay. Now that the Board of Education has completed, or has plans to complete, all points, Green wondered if the committee, as specified, was needed.

“Was it specified that we have meetings till the money ran out?” he asked.

Hunter said not to his knowledge. Both boards agreed that regular meetings between the two would be beneficial, but Caskey suggested it might be better to arrange more formal, quarterly meetings to communicate and discuss other topics.

After the discussion on the western elementary school, Wagner said such discussions could help both parties save money. He said he’d recently been asked if county employees could be responsible for lawn maintenance at school system buildings. The district currently uses a sub-contracting service, and consolidating the school system and the county could “chip away” at costs and inefficiencies.

“Those are the kinds of things I think the (Joint Planning Committee) could look at,” he said.

Caskey said there were probably some areas of cost savings the two boards could find if they sat down to discuss things.

“We are willing to discuss anything to save money for the citizens of Rowan County,” Green said.

 Contact reporter Rebecca Rider at 704-797-4264.