Pierce criticizes RSS as county commissioners approve grant application for Knox-Overton K-8

Published 12:10 am Tuesday, February 22, 2022

SALISBURY — The Rowan County Board of Commissioners on Monday night gave Rowan-Salisbury Schools the green light to apply for a state grant to build a combined Knox-Overton K-8 school.

The project will cost just under $70 million — more than $14 million above the original price tag. The significant extra expense is largely due to the increased cost of construction materials. To offset the increased cost, the district will now apply for a Needs-Based Public School Capital Fund grant. The grant could net the district up to $40 million, but a lesser amount could be awarded. The Board of Education approved the grant application at a meeting earlier this month.

RSSS Chief Operations Officer Anthony Vann told commissioners the grant requires a 15% county match, which would be $6 million if the full $40 million is awarded.

Commissioners voted 3-1 in favor of moving forward with the grant, with commissioner Craig Pierce being the lone vote against. Chair Greg Edds was not present during the meeting. Pierce said he voted against the application because he is concerned about committing the county to pay the remaining $30 million to complete the project.

“From what I’ve been told, if we agree to send this grant forward and it’s accepted, the county is then on the hook to pay the difference,” Pierce said. “I’m really not in favor of doing something like this until we have more information on this.”

Pierce also chided the district for not giving the board more notice about the application, which is due on March 15.

“As usual, y’all waited until the last minute to bring something in front of us so we do not have time to investigate it,” Pierce said.

Vann fought back against Pierce’s assertion that the project was sprung upon the board.

“This is not a new project,” Vann said. “This has been on the books for multiple years.”

The Knox-Overton project has been in the works for several years, Vann said, but was frozen by the county after the COVID-19 pandemic started. The county included $55 million in new debt service to be used by RSS how it likes in the current fiscal year budget.

Pierce also criticized the district for not being more communicative about capital projects.

“This has happened ever since I’ve been on this board,” Pierce said. “I’m getting a little bit weary of this stuff. If you guys want to do a project, why don’t you start including the commissioners like we set up a joint capital improvement committee years ago, which hasn’t met in the last four or five years.”

Caskey questioned Vann about whether the RSS Board of Education is fully supportive of the project. He also asked whether the grant funds, if awarded, could be used for other purposes. Caskey said he didn’t want to vote specifically for building a combined Knox-Overton. Vann said it was possible the funds could be used for another project in the pipeline, but said the best chance to get the grant is by focusing on one project.

Vann said the Board of Commissioners previously voted against an application for the same grant for the Knox-Overton project because being awarded the grant used to exclude districts from receiving North Carolina Education Lottery funding for a few years. That is no longer the case, Vann said.

Commissioners may have approved the application Monday night, but they would still have to approve acceptance of the grant if it is awarded. Vann said the grant will be awarded on April 12.

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About Ben Stansell

Ben Stansell covers business, county government and more for the Salisbury Post. He joined the staff in August 2020 after graduating from the University of Alabama. Email him at ben.stansell@salisburypost.com.

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