10/12/05 — County wants third opinion on plan

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County wants third opinion on plan

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on October 12, 2005 1:50 PM

Wayne County officials will likely call in an outside consultant to review a proposed school building plan before deciding how to proceed, County Manager Lee Smith said Tuesday.

The county Board of Education developed a preliminary $130 million building plan last month. School officials are still working on making the plan final, but say there are major building needs across the county. Although Smith and the commissioners have not seen a version of the schools' proposal, he said they likely will ask a consultant to study the plan before making any pronouncements.

"I think bringing in a third party will give a certain comfort level to the public," Smith said.

He said he doesn't expect to see a copy of the district's plan for several weeks. School officials likely will make a prioritized list of needs before presenting the plan to commissioners, he added.

The two boards sparred over money this year, reaching a budget compromise that avoided a court case.

Smith said he and the commissioners are considering hiring Evergreen Solutions, a Florida firm, to review the plan. The company has worked with other North Carolina counties, including Johnston, Smith said. In some cases, they helped find unused money to put into construction projects.

"The idea here is to see if the numbers make sense and determine whether they are too high or too low," said Smith.

The consultant's job will be to conduct a financial analysis of the school plan and to locate any money that might be available to help pay for various costs, he said. Additionally, the consultant would be expected to review the plan and ensure that the school board and commissioners have not missed anything that should be included.

Smith said it will be necessary for the public to be educated about the proposed building plan before the county decides how to pay for any construction.

Public meetings could be held to explain the needs, he said.

Unless the public supports the plan, commissioners might find it hard to sell the bonds necessary to come up with the money, he added.

"We need to educate the public and make sure they understand the costs," Smith said.

Smith said he believes approval of the plan could take up to a year. However, should a school drastically need money, the board could approve funds earlier.

"Our main concern is the health, welfare and safety of the children in our schools," Smith said.

The school board met in September to talk about facility needs and came up with a preliminary plan but did not vote on it.

School board members agreed that the plan should include some new schools, additions to existing schools and repairs to others.

The proposal calls for new high schools in Mount Olive and Grantham, adding classrooms at Charles B. Aycock High, Norwayne Middle School, Spring Creek High and Spring Creek Elementary schools, Eastern Wayne High School, Rosewood Elementary, North Drive Elementary, Tommy's Road Elementary, Meadow Lane Elementary, Greenwood Middle School, Southern Wayne High School, Grantham Elementary and improving air-conditioning at several schools.