Board of Education holds off of alternate property decision

Published 12:00 am Friday, July 1, 2016

By Rebecca Rider

SALISBURY — After an hour and a half of debate, the Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education has trimmed down a list of potential sites for a proposed consolidated elementary school in the western part of the county.

The board is under contract to purchase a site at the corner of N.C. 801 and Godbey Road, but agreed to scout for other sites after the community raised concerns of heavy traffic and the proximity of Southern Power, which borders the property.

During a Thursday called meeting, school system staff and SfL+a Architects returned with five additional properties for consideration.

But the sites were quickly narrowed down to three. Three parcels — an additional plot on N.C. 801, one near the intersection of Hobson and Cool Springs roads and a site on Mountain Road — were discarded as unsuitable.

Water and sewer concerns plagued the remaining discussion on a potential parcel on Foster Road, the current site of Cleveland Elementary School and the Godbey Road site. Godbey Road would require the construction of sewer and water lines from U.S. 70 up N.C. 801, which carries an estimated cost of $1.2 million.

A potential property on Foster Road would need a similar construction of sewer and water lines — but would not require a lift station like Godbey Road. The other option for the property would be for the system to build and maintain its own well and septic system — which would result in a recurring annual cost of nearly $100,000, Assistant Superintendent Anthony Vann said.

“For eternity. For as long as that school operates,” he said.

The other new property for consideration is the site of the current Cleveland Elementary School. The parcel has enough room for the existing structure to remain in use during construction, but the system would incur demolition costs once the schools are consolidated. SfL+a informed the board that abutting residential streets would also need to be widened.

If the board chose a different property, it would lose the approximately $60,000 already spent on the Godbey Road parcel, board Chair Josh Wagner said.

But other board members said it might be worth it, if it eased the mind of the public. Despite assurances from Southern Power that the plant posed no danger to its neighbors, board members feared the trust was already broken.

“Once an individual or community decides it’s not safe, you can give them all the guarantees in the world, and they will still say, ‘That’s not safe,’ when it comes to their children,” Chuck Hughes said.

The discussion jumped back and forth from safety to sewer and water to the construction timeline. SfL+a Architects reminded the board that it only had a month and a half leeway before the design and construction schedule for the school would be affected, and the board would risk missing an August 2018 opening.

Wagner urged taking time to do the right thing, instead of being pressured into a decision because of a timeline.

“We want to do this right and do it right the first time,” he said.

But board member Dr. Richard Miller said that the board couldn’t completely ignore the timeline, as the water and septic issues at Woodleaf Elementary weren’t going to improve.

“The more time we wait to make this decision, the more we’re asking, in my opinion, for a catastrophe bigger than we’ve had before to happen,” he said.

He also reminded the board that building costs were only going to rise, and he didn’t think the county commissioners would provide additional funds. He told the board that it was “fish or cut bait time.”

Board member Travis Allen was also in favor of moving the site from Godbey Road, but preferred a neutral site. Board members Jean Kennedy and Chuck Hughes agreed with the site switch, and said that a decision needed to be made.

“I for one, will not shove Godbey Road down the community’s throat — and that’s what I think we’d be doing. Whether their concerns are valid or not — they are their concerns,” Hughes said.

The board agreed to direct SfL+a to draw up estimated costs for purchase, water and sewer, property cost, demolition, road widening and other costs of construction for the Cleveland and Foster Road parcels. The information will be presented to the board on July 18. Wagner encouraged the board and the community to bring concerns about any of the potential sites to the board’s attention before that date.

The board will hold a called business meeting July 18 to discuss the properties. The meeting will begin at 5 p.m. in the Wallace Educational Forum board room. Public comment will begin at 6 p.m.

Contact reporter Rebecca Rider at 704-797-4264.