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County commissioners clear way for Faith Academy to take over elementary school building

SALISBURY — The Rowan County Board of Commissioners on Monday declined an option to make use of Faith Elementary School after the Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education closes it at the end of the school year

The decision by the Board of Commissioners will allow the Board of Education to sell the soon-to-be-closed school that was declared surplus last month. The top suitor for the site is newly-chartered Faith Academy, which has expressed interest in purchasing the facility to house its new school. 

If sold, commissioners tagged on the caveat the Board of Education includes all furniture inside the school in the sale of the building. 

“I’m in favor of us not having interest in Faith, but I think that, at least I would like, for the board to think about at least recommending that they keep the furniture with the new building occupant,” Commissioner Mike Caskey said. “It sounds like that would save the taxpayer some money.”

Caskey came to that conclusion after Anthony Vann, associate superintendent of operations for RSS, said the school system didn’t have a pressing need for the furniture. In response to Caskey’s request, Vann said including the furniture in the sale was something the Board of Education would consider.

Vann also presented commissioners with the option to acquire the Enochville Elementary School building and a 21,250-square foot classroom structure near Corriher-Lipe Middle School in Landis. Like Faith, Enochville Elementary is scheduled to close at the conclusion of the school year. The classroom near Corriher-Lipe is no longer being used.

Commissioners decided to table the matter and requested more information from Vann before making a decision on whether to reject the offer to acquire either building.

“The growth potential in the southern part of the county is tremendous, including even some overlap coming up from Kannapolis and other municipalities down that way,” Commissioner Craig Pierce said. “I know that we want to reduce our maintenance and reduce our energy consumption, but at the same time, I’d hate to sell a building that’s 21,000 square feet and then next year you’re coming to us saying we need a new school because the school is too small.”

In other business on Monday:

• After hearing a presentation from Rowan Economic Development Commission Vice President Scott Shelton, commissioners approved a requested tax incentive package for “Project Popcorn.”

The company behind “Project Popcorn” is being described as a food processing company that is considering investing $127.5 million to build a facility in Rowan County that would generate an estimated 1,200 jobs.

The number of jobs that “Project Popcorn” would potentially create matches the number promised and delivered by online pet retailer Chewy when it selected Rowan County for its distribution center in 2019. But the capital investment of nearly $130 million would dwarf the $55 million investment Chewy made to build its facility.

“I do recall when Chewy did select Rowan County, (Rowan EDC President) Rod Crider said that these are projects with that number of jobs you see once every 10 or 20 years,” Shelton said. “It speaks to the attractiveness of Rowan County that we’re a finalist for another one of this scope within two years of the Chewy announcement.”

Shelton said the EDC believes that Rowan County is competing against a site in Virginia to land the project behind “Project Popcorn.”

The average wage earned by the company’s employees would be $17.37 per hour, creating direct earnings of $43.36 million, Shelton said.

The 10-year grant approved by commissioners will have the county return 85% of the company’s paid taxes in the first five years and 50% of its paid taxes in the remaining five. Modeled with a 10-year horizon, Rowan County would retain an estimated $1.84 million of new revenue created by the company choosing the county for its new facility. The company would need to meet its job creation goal to receive the grant.

Each year after the grant period, Shelton said, Rowan County would receive roughly $400,000 in tax revenue.

The commissioners also agreed to wave a $2,500 permitting fee for the project and approved offering a $500,000 equipment grant for “Project Popcorn.”

During his presentation, Shelton illustrated the “ripple effect” that the development project would have on the county besides generating tax revenue. Among the additional economic benefits, Shelton told commissioners that the project would indirectly create 1,474 jobs, generate $792,002 in local sales tax and would lead to $7,968,738 in annual deposits for area banks.

• Environmental Health Supervisor Adrian Pruett gave commissioners an update on his department’s efforts to catch up on the backlog of on-site soil and septic tank inspections. Pruett said that the wait time as of Friday had been cut down to two weeks. However, Pruett said that the department recently received an influx of new applications that are part of the rush to start developing in the spring. Even with the bevy of new applications, Pruett said that he doesn’t see the wait time increasing to more than three or four weeks.

• Commissioners approved a request from County Manager Aaron Church to allow him to delegate the authority to sign annual leases at the airport to the airport director.

• The board approved a request from Rowan County Parks and Facilities Director Don Bringle for his department to bring Special Olympics Rowan County under its leadership. The Special Olympics has been led by the Rowan-Cabarrus YMCA, but Rowan County Parks and Recreation has long been an integral part of the program. The move is simply a leadership change, Bringle said.

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