RSS board confirms Overton demolition, asks for study on K-8 site

Published 8:59 pm Monday, February 28, 2022

SALISBURY – The Rowan-Salisbury Schools Board of Education on Monday signed off on a plan to demolish Overton Elementary School to make way for its new K-8 project.

Discussion preceded a vote on the motion by Vice Chair Alisha-Byrd Clark to continue with the plan because it would not deviate from what the board already decided. The board voted and approved the motion anyway.

The decision will save about $1.15 million on construction costs for the K-8 and remove a facility from the list the district maintains. Knox Middle School was already up for demolition as part of the project, and that demolition has not been questioned.

The discussion about the new school led to another question: Would it be less expensive and feasible to move all students from Knox and Overton to surrounding schools while the new facility is under construction.

Board member Travis Allen raised the question. He asked RSS Chief Operations Officer Anthony Vann if the change would generate savings while pointing out the district’s long list of empty seats and the poor security on Knox’s campus.

“It doesn’t hurt us safety-wise either,” Allen said. “Because we know that’s one of our most wide-open campuses.”

Vann said the student move would likely reduce costs by simplifying the building process. He noted projects are managed differently when there are students in the vicinity.

“I think that if we had full reign on the site without kids in either one of the schools, I think that the price would be somewhat lower,” Vann said, adding he was not sure the cost on the project would be enough to justify moving the students to other schools.

The build time on the school is 18 months.

Board of Education Chair Dean Hunter pointed out the district’s empty seats are not necessarily in proximity to Knox and Overton. Vann said there are transportation costs associated with busing students to schools further away.

Vann was asked to investigate if the move would be feasible and beneficial.

Board member Kevin Jones said he thinks the board is still looking for the big picture answers to whether RSS has looked at all options for the project given the increased costs.

The project came in with a $55 million cost estimate in 2020, but the funding was frozen by the Rowan County Board of Commissioners in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, citing economic uncertainty. Work on the project did not begin again until funding was unfrozen in mid-2021. In February, the cost estimate increased to $69.6 million.

The board is applying for a capital grant from the state that could land the district up to $40 million to complete the project. The commissioners signed off on applying for the grant on Feb. 21.

Hunter alluded to comments made by Commissioner Craig Pierce during the meeting. Pierce criticized the district for asking for approval on the grant after waiting to the “last minute.”

Hunter said addressing the issues with the facilities has been on the agenda for the RSS Board of Education for years.

“This has been on the forefront of the agenda of the Board of Education for nearly a decade now,” Hunter said, adding trying to get the grant is part of being good stewards of the district’s funding.

Allen said he wished he attended the commissioners meeting after watching it afterward. He was blunt about where he thinks the blame lies for the funding challenges for the project came from.

“If they would have not have froze our funds two years ago, we’d save $14 million,” Allen said.

If the money was not frozen, the school would be almost done now, he said.

“I was trying to be nice about it,” Hunter said, following Allen’s comments. The school board has done a good job trying to not waste money, Hunter said.

The commissioners previously denied applying for the same grant for the project because the state used to exclude districts from receiving North Carolina Education Lottery funding for five years if the district was awarded the grant. That is no longer the case.

Allen pointed out many of the district’s schools were built decades ago. If the board doesn’t address building issues, they will not get cheaper. He said he knows the county is not wealthy and is grateful for the funding from the commissioners, but the problems will not go away.

“It’s not a problem that’s going away, it’s a problem that’s getting worse every year,” Allen said.

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About Carl Blankenship

Carl Blankenship has covered education for the Post since December 2019. Before coming to Salisbury he was a staff writer for The Avery Journal-Times in Newland and graduated from Appalachian State University in 2017, where he was editor of The Appalachian.

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