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School board discusses possible technical school

SALISBURY — Slowly but surely, Rowan County is moving closer to the possibility of a future technical high school.

While the idea for a technical high school has been batted about often enough in the past, on Monday the Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education sat down and learned what such a facility might cost.

Mandy Mills, director of career and technical education, walked the board through price tags for similar schools in neighboring counties and drew up estimates of what it might cost for Rowan County to have its own.

Iredell-Statesville schools launched a technical high school in 2009 by renovating an existing structure. The building is 225,000 square feet and sits on 37 acres. The district was able to purchase and fully renovate the property for just under $10 million.

In 2010, Alamance-Burlington Schools went the other route and built a new facility. The 40,000-square-foot building sits on six acres and cost about $5.8 million.

But Rowan County’s needs are different, and costs have increased since then. Mills’ calculations were for a 60,000-square-foot building on 15 acres. Assuming the district already owns the land, a new technical high school would cost about $17.8 million. Renovating an existing building owned by the district would cost between $7 million and $10 million, and renovating a purchased building would cost between $9 million and $11.4 million, she said.

“The numbers that we’ve come up with, I have kind of exponentially increased since 2009 when the other technical schools were built,” Mills said.

But that space would allow the district to house multiple programs, including advanced manufacturing, architecture and construction, automotive technology, culinary arts, computer and network engineering, global logistics, nursing, biotechnology and public safety.

“These are all areas that we’ve looked at that have a high demand in our area,” Mills said.

Staff members also cobbled together a transportation cost estimate, assuming that the theoretical school was centrally located “just to get an idea of running two round trips from each high school each day,” Mills said.

The theoretical model has batches of students ferried from each high school and back twice a day — once in the morning, and once in the afternoon.

While board members said they are on board with the idea of a technical school, Mills’ proposal gave them a bit of sticker shock. Currently, area high schools have career academies where students can choose to focus on a particular field. Those, board Chairman Josh Wagner said, are “certainly better than nothing.” But it might be time to consider whether the benefits of a technical school outweigh the cost.

“It’s something that has been a discussion topic for a long time,” Wagner said. “… Obviously the linchpin, as with everything, is money. But I do think we’re in a situation where we need to decide as a district is this something we want to do or something we don’t want to do, regardless of money.”

Other board members agreed it is time to start the discussion, and that such a conversation would need to be wider than just Rowan-Salisbury Schools.

“This is not just a school system thing, this is a countywide thing. It’s a big deal for us,” Wagner said.

If the idea moves forward, the board and school system will need to talk to the Rowan County Board of Commissioners, local business owners, students and parents. Board members requested that county residents come to business meetings and speak up about whether they are for or against a technical school.

It would take all of Rowan County, Wagner said, to come up with ideas and to help find compromises on such a project.

Mills was directed to look at buildings and property that the school system owns to see if any might be a good match for a technical school and to come up with cost estimates should the project ever get off the ground.

Contact reporter Rebecca Rider at 704-797-4264. 

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