Editorial: Increased costs shouldn’t change Knox-Overton K-8 project

Published 12:01 am Sunday, February 20, 2022

Like most things, the price of Rowan-Salisbury Schools’ combined Knox-Overton K-8 school project increased from an initial estimate years ago to one that’s eye-popping today.

The school board received new estimates during its meeting earlier this month that raised the price from $55 million to $69.6 million. That’s a $14 million increase for a school that would house about 828 students and have a maximum capacity of about 1,200.

Because of the condition of Knox Middle and its long-delayed replacement, the project is essential. Overton became part of the compromise solution in late 2019 and early 2020 after an initial proposal would have closed Knox, moved middle school students into the elementary school during construction and closed the latter when the new building opened.

The compromise solution received a large swath of the community’s support, including then Salisbury Mayor Al Heggins. In 2019, she repurposed a phrase from the late Paul Fisher, Bell Tower Green’s chief fundraiser, in telling the RSS Board of Education, “Let’s build a school.”

The pandemic paused all capital projects funded by county government, including the K-8, but the school was revived last year after County Manager Aaron Church included $55 million in new debt for the school system to use how it pleased. Now, even if inflation slows down or turns to deflation, it’s unlikely $55 million will be enough. Prices rarely decrease that far.

The good news is there’s millions in federal relief floating around Rowan County and/or on its way to local government coffers.

Supplementing local funding for a K-8 school seems well within the allowed uses for state and local recovery funds in the American Rescue Plan — of which Rowan County expects to receive $27.6 million. RSS also individually will receive tens of millions of dollars in relief.

The U.S. Treasury Department’s website for the funding states it can be used to: “Build a strong, resilient, and equitable recovery by making investments that support long-term growth and opportunity.” There are few, if any, better ways to support long-term growth and opportunity than by investing in public education.

The Salisbury City Council has a history of funding projects at schools within the city’s boundaries, and it expects to receive a total of $7 million in rescue plan funding. A couple million from city government, a little more from the county and the remainder from RSS would easily cover the increased costs.

This week, Rowan County commissioners will discuss — and almost certainly endorse — an application by RSS for state funding to assist with the K-8. If that’s successful, there are many other education projects for federal relief. County and city officials also can move funding onto other projects.

At $69.6 million, the project remains possible without feature reductions.

Let’s build a school.