09/23/07 — County not likely to discuss school facilities till October

View Archive

County not likely to discuss school facilities till October

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on September 23, 2007 2:10 AM

Despite earlier indications by Wayne County Manager Lee Smith that he and his staff would have a school facilities funding proposal ready by the end of September, no such discussion was held by the commissioners at their second meeting of the month Tuesday.

Instead, Smith said, it's likely to be sometime in the latter half of October before he brings the matter before his board.

"We're getting closer," he said. "We just need to make sure we're making the right decision. These are complicated issues for us. These are big decisions. They don't happen overnight."

Right now, he explained, not only is he still reviewing the school system's numbers and dollar figures, but the county is also preparing to hear the results of a jail study, as well as the preliminary assessments of future space needs for the county Department of Social Services, Health Department and Services on Aging.

"I've got to look at all of the county projects," Smith said. "You can't do any of this without the rest. I think it's the smartest way -- to look at all these issues, including the schools and the county's capital projects. I'm trying to be as accurate as possible, but this is not an exact science."

In terms of the school system, he continued, while he finally feels like he has almost all the necessary information in hand, they are still trying to nail down some loose ends.

"I've got the information from the schools, but I'm still having some issues with it," he said.

He explained that the county is working to make sure that the construction costs, as well as future operating costs are estimated as close as possible, and that officials have separated all of the local costs from those associated with state and federal dollars.

He also said that the county is continuing to go through the school board's priority list, looking to pull out anything that could be paid for with future cash or through performance contracts, which are arrangements that allow for the money saved through increased efficiencies to pay for the project.

In addition, Smith continued, the county can't forget about what's going on inside the schools.

"We're hearing a lot of the community asking that we look at the quality of education as much as the capital," he said. "You've got to find a balance between (funding) the two, because once you lay that first block, there's no going back."

So far, though, said school Superintendent Dr. Steve Taylor, that process is moving smoothly.

"We have been providing information to (Smith), probably for a couple weeks now, regarding operational costs and other things he needed based on the prioritized list," Taylor said. "Any information he has needed, he has asked for and we have sent over.

"I think at this point we're waiting to hear from him. I feel like we're making some progress, and I feel good about that. I hope we can keep it moving forward."

But first, Smith is waiting to hear about some of the county's other capital projects.

He expects the jail study to be ready for presentation at the commission's Oct. 2 meeting.

"I want the commissioners to at least hear the jail deal and give me some direction on what they're thinking about, because that is going to have a major influence over the next three to four years," he said.

The commission's options will likely boil down to either renovating the existing facility or building a new one.

Smith also is hoping to soon have back the first phase of results from the space study currently being conducted for the Department of Social Services, the Health Department and the Services on Aging. The county is looking to either find new homes for those departments, or perhaps, construct a new building within the next 10 years for all three.

"That will at least give me an estimated square footage figure to work with," he said.

Only then, once all those pieces are put together, he continued, will the county be able to move forward to address the school system's long-term facility needs.

"I think the timing's good," Smith said. "I think we should be able to come back in October with some kind of idea, and then the board will have the hard job of deciding what avenue they want to take -- bonds, certificates of participation, etc."