10/11/05 — School building plan accepted in Duplin County

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School building plan accepted in Duplin County

By Bonnie Edwards
Published in News on October 11, 2005 1:48 PM

KENANSVILLE -- Duplin County students will get two new school buildings and renovations at another -- if state money becomes available, the county's commissioners decided Monday.

The Duplin County Board of Commissioners voted 4-2 to accept the Board of Education's building plan and to commit to funding the projects, but only as money comes in from the new state lottery and a possible half-cent sales tax designated for school building projects in certain North Carolina counties. The commission agreed property taxes would not be increased to pay for the construction projects.

The plan calls for a $30 million high school for students in the Warsaw, Kenansville and B.F. Grady school districts. The high school would be built somewhere between Kenansville and B.F. Grady Elementary School near Albertson.

In addition, a proposed new $10.8 million elementary school next to B.F. Grady would house children from pre-kindergarten through third grade.

James Kenan High near Warsaw would become a middle school for grades 6-8, and almost $1.9 million worth of renovation work would be done at Charity Middle School near Wallace.

County Manager Fred Eldridge said somewhere along the way the county will have to buy land on which to build the two new schools. He said with the worst case scenario that could cost up to $700,000.

He said the county can expect to receive $1.3 million this year from the lottery. But the lottery and the half-cent sales tax revenues are an unknown, he warned.

"It's not something you can take to the bank," he said.

The plan was not accepted by some commissioners, who had hoped for other school projects or lower costs.

Commissioner Zettie Williams of Kenansville said she wanted all the high school students in the northern part of the county attending the same school.

Commissioner Arliss Albertson wanted a less expensive school design.

"It's pretty. Cumberland County has it. But we cannot afford that kind of price tag," Albertson said. "I would love to see something like this in Duplin County, but we can't afford it."

A 77-cent property tax is all the people can stand, Commissioner David Fussell of Wallace said. He said commissioners asked the school board for a compromise on the $43 million plan.

"And they said no," Fussell said.

Commissioner Larry Howard of Mount Olive said he doesn't like the plan. In previous meetings, he has said the new organization places 745 students in one high school while leaving 290 in another. The state has recommended a small high school with no more than 400 students.

"And even if I did think it was the greatest thing, everybody over where I live doesn't like it," Howard said. "I don't represent myself. I have to vote the way they want me to vote."

Commissioner and former school superintendent L.S. Guy of Faison moved to accept the plan under the conditions that property tax money would not be used to pay for the construction projects.

"If we can't do it with these funds, we can't do it," he said when he made the motion. Mrs. Williams seconded the motion. Commission Chairman Reginald Wells and Fussell voted yes along with Mrs. Williams and Wells. Albertson and Howard voted against accepting the plan and paying for it.

School Superintendent Tommy Benson said after the meeting that building the two new schools and renovating Charity are going to hinge on the local option sales tax, which the N.C. General Assembly is expected to consider in the spring. He said the lottery money the county expects to receive isn't going to be enough to make the payments for building even the new high school.

He said he is not sure what county commissioners meant when they said the county would only fund the projects as the money became available, but it sounded to him like the project would have to be done in stages.

He said the original plan had been to build the high school and do the Charity renovations first and then build the new elementary school.