School board picks new site for western elementary

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, July 19, 2016

By Rebecca Rider

SALISBURY — The Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education pulled a last minute switch Monday on the property for a proposed consolidated western elementary school.

After heated discussion at its called meeting Monday evening, the board agreed to move forward with a parcel of land on Foster Road, near the intersection of Hobson Road in the western part of the county. The property is the most expensive of the board’s options.

The former site, located at the intersection of Godbey Road and N.C. 801, drew community concern due to its proximity to Southern Power, which borders the property, and heavy traffic on N.C. 801. In May, the board began to cast its nets elsewhere and turned up two viable alternatives — the current location of Cleveland Elementary and the Foster Road property.

Estimates from the consulting firm SfL+a Architects put upfront costs for the Godbey Road site at $1.9 million, the Cleveland site at $2 million and the Foster Road property at $2.1 million.

The new school will combine the Cleveland and Woodleaf elementary schools.

Not only is the Foster Road site the most expensive up front, it would also carry fees for installing gravity-fed sewer and water lines — a cost estimated at $1.2 million for the Godbey Road property — and up to $125,000 in yearly maintenance fees for the lines and an on-site water system.

But before the discussion began, school Superintendent Dr. Lynn Moody shared that Assistant Superintendent Anthony Vann received a call Monday informing the school system that there was a third-party business interested in the Godbey Road property. The board’s 90-day window on the property has expired, and it is no longer under contract for the site. The board has already paid $10,000 in earnest money, and spent $116,000 in site work.

The board spent some time discussing a line item on the Cleveland site estimate: a nearly $1 million demolition fee for the old Cleveland school building, but Vann cautioned the board about dallying on the issue. The cost of construction was only going to rise, and the difference would have to be trimmed from the school’s square footage.

“Either one of these sites will work. There’s pros and cons to all of them,” he said.

But when the board’s favor shifted toward Foster Road, Board Chairman Josh Wagner dug his heels in. By going with the Cleveland site, he said, the board would not have recurring, annual costs.

“You’re there 50 years – do the math, that’s a significant amount,” he said.

But other board members objected, citing the need for a neutral site between the Cleveland and Woodleaf communities.

“There’s some issues you can’t put money on,” board member Chuck Hughes said.

While the Godbey Road site may actually be safe, he said, the community would never be convinced otherwise.

“This comes down to an emotional issue. You have a community there that doesn’t believe it’s safe . . . they will not be happy there, they will never be happy there,” he said.

Board member Travis Allen agreed.

“There is a stigma that I think it would be hard for this board to overcome,” he said.

Allen also advocated for a neutral site, saying that the point of a consolidated school was not to create a new Woodleaf or a new Cleveland elementary, but a new western community.

Board member Dr. Richard Miller made a motion to move forward with the Foster Road property. Hughes seconded.

But the discussion was not over.

“I don’t understand how anyone in their right mind can look at the sheet and see the numbers and be in support of Foster Road,” Wagner said, referencing the cost comparisons provided by SfL+a.

Allen pointed out that sometimes the cheapest option isn’t always the wisest. He wouldn’t buy the cheapest car or house just because it was cheapest, he said.

“We buy what fits us best,” he said.

But board member Dean Hunter said it was best for the board to consider the cheapest option, and the Foster Road property could cost the system more than $6 million over a 50 year period in annual sewer and water maintenance costs.

“I’m not spending my money on this, I’m spending the taxpayers’ money,” he said.

The board called the question and cast their votes. The Foster Road property won in a 5-2 vote, with Hunter and Wagner voting against.

However, Vann said in an interview after the discussion that this doesn’t mean that the Godbey Road property is off the table. The system will need to negotiate a price with the owner of the Foster Road property, and the site will need to undergo environmental studies. Until it does, Godbey may still be a viable choice.

Contact reporter Rebecca Rider at 704-797-4264.