07/11/07 — Priority list from schools is in now

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Priority list from schools is in now

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on July 11, 2007 1:46 PM

By combining projects and compromising, school board members hammered out a nine-point facilities priority list to submit to county commissioners.

Tuesday morning's 90-minute work session only stalled when board members lobbied to honor "long overdue" promises made to their districts and work for every part of the county to be represented in the construction plan.

The $105 million plan originally contained 17 items. By consolidating several of the projects, the board pared the list down to nine.

Brogden Primary School's need for an expanded "cafetorium" was unanimously voted first on the list. The $4.4 million project included electrical, heating and air conditioning upgrades, replacement of doors and hardware and bathroom partitions, floor covering and upgrading the student drop-off area.

Board member George Moye suggested the priority list be guided by one principle -- providing classroom space.

"None of us know how much money we're going to get" from the county to fund the projects, he said. "It seems to me that our priority needs to be spaces for the children. I feel like it's real important for them to be able to look and see that we have classroom space. Those issues need to be at the top."

Vice Chairwoman Thelma Smith's concerns centered around some of the dilapidated structures. Renovating them would be in line with "some promises that we have been making for 10 years or more now, that we would certainly look at those," she said.

Overcrowded conditions also prompted much discussion, while Sprunt Hill, assistant superintendent for auxiliary services, explained the need for deferred maintenance projects in many schools.

Board member Rick Pridgen weighed the importance of listing new school construction versus the maintenance projects. "Maybe we ought to plug where we would like to build new schools but keep the priorities of these new schools separate," he said.

In the end, the list contained a combination of new and updated projects.

Aging middle schools Norwayne and Eastern Wayne's drainage problems prompted the board to prioritize them at No. 2. The cost, $13.2 million, includes demolition, construction of a two-story unit for classrooms, air conditioning the gymnasiums and cafeteria renovation.

Mount Olive Middle School, a $2.2 million project, came in third place. In addition to renovating the cafeteria and restrooms, other maintenance projects would include air conditioning the gym and kitchen, resurfacing the bus parking lot, roofing repairs, and upgrades to the electrical and heating systems.

Deciding fourth place sparked debate. Moye lobbied for Spring Creek elementary and high schools, noting that they are using 23 trailers for classrooms.

Board member John Grantham said the Grantham area continues to be overlooked. "They have nowhere to go, and they're building new subdivisions out there," he said.

"The northern Wayne and Spring Creek areas are the growth areas of the county," Moye replied. "Spring Creek, so far as needing seats and space, is probably in worse shape than the Aycock area."

Mrs. Smith asked them to consider the central attendance area, which accounted for $8 million worth of projects shared between six schools.

"We need to honor some promises that have been made for years and years and years," she said. "That's not a lot of money but please put it somewhere near the top. ... It's been promised too long."

Other areas might have experienced high growth, she said. Nevertheless, it is hard to explain to her constituents why schools in the city are not being given the same attention.

"To bypass them over and over ... at least honor the commitments that have been made," Mrs. Smith said.

With that, the group made the central attendance schools fourth on the priority list.

Spring Creek Elementary, a $3.8 million project, was put in fifth place. Projects include adding new classrooms and upgrades to the heating and electrical systems and floor coverings.

Sixth was Charles B. Aycock High, for $6.6 million, where 20 teaching stations would be added, renovations made to the cafeteria and administration area along with maintenance projects.

The need for middle schools in Grantham and Spring Creek prompted a standoff. Grantham and Moye stood firm on their positions until board member Pete Gurley suggested the projects share the seventh position on the list.

Building two schools simultaneously is part of a growing trend, Hill said, and fiscally responsible since the combined costs could actually save money. But getting the county commission to see it that way might be another matter, Moye said.

"I'm afraid it will fail if commissioners see both done at the same time," he said.

Combined cost was listed at $35.4 million, but a time line could be developed to spread out the spending, said Nan Barwick, assistant superintendent for financial services.

It was frustrating to compile a priority list not knowing what numbers they had to work with, several said.

"We're shooting in the dark," said Shirley Sims, board chairwoman.

Rounding out the list were a $1.1 million project at Greenwood Middle in eighth place -- adding four classrooms and new faculty restrooms -- and new elementary and middle schools in the northern end, estimated at $29.6 million, in ninth place.

The proposal will be put to a vote in August and then forwarded to commissioners.