09/05/07 — Grantham land buy for school gets OK

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Grantham land buy for school gets OK

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on September 5, 2007 2:22 PM

For three years the members of the Wayne County Board of Education have held an option on a 46-acre plot of land in the Grantham community. Their vision is for it to be the future home of a new Grantham middle school, but until Tuesday, it wasn't clear if that would become a reality.

Slightly more than two months after the school board decided to move forward with the acquisition of the land, and only about a week before the option was to run out, the county Board of Commissioners finally signed off on the $370,000 purchase price.

It was, Commissioner Efton Sager said, their only role to play in the matter.

"We looked at that and decided it was a fair value," he said.

And according to David Littleton with Wayne Appraisal Service, the price was indeed in-line with the property's $368,000 -- $8,000 an acre -- appraised value and sale range of $350,000 to $390,000.

The land, which is owned by Ruth Hardy, is located off U.S. 13.

But the commissioners' discussion didn't stop there.

During their briefing session they also voiced their concerns that the school board's purchase of the land was another step toward having too many small schools spread too far apart across the county. The problem with that, they explained, is the cost -- the maintenance, the administrative and the infrastructure costs.

"Somehow we need to come together on a plan for the future," Commissioner Andy Anderson said. "We've got 33 schools now. We could, in the next 20 years, end up with 40 to 50 schools scattered around the county. We need more consolidation, and if we're going to build a school, are we going to tear one down?

"We need to plan ahead. The school board doesn't seem to understand that we don't have an infinite supply of money. We need to try to get together with the school board."

The building of a new middle school in Grantham is part of the school system's long-range facilities plan.

Anderson also wondered, why, if all these new schools are indeed necessary, isn't the school board trying to find enough land to accommodate more than one school in each location.

Other suggestions included the regulated use of modular classrooms -- utilizing them as a mobile and less expensive way to supply as a certain percentage of the county's total classroom space.

"Some parents think modular units are a cheap option, but if you talk to teachers and students, they don't see a lot of difference," Commissioner Jack Best added.

County Manager Lee Smith also brought up the idea of re-arranging student populations.

"We've sort of flattened out student growth. We just have a movement of students," he said. "And if you're increasing somewhere that much, that means that somewhere else, you're going down.

"So one option is to move those students."

It is, commission Chairman John Bell said, just one possibility that -- even though it is a school board decision -- needs to be discussed by everyone.

"It's not fair to the taxpayers for the school board to not manage their student population," he said. "You've got to control where people go."

And while Smith is expected to address some of these issues, as well as facilities funding at the commissioners' Sept. 18 meeting, at some point, Commissioner J.D. Evans said, the two sides have got to come to an agreement and start working on some schools.

"How long are we going to wait?" he asked. "Somewhere along the line, we've got to do something. We've got to move on."