02/02/11 — Concern raised on plan for new school

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Concern raised on plan for new school

By Steve Herring
Published in News on February 2, 2011 1:46 PM

Consolidating Eastern Wayne Middle School with Greenwood on the latter's campus would be more efficient and be money better spent than investing millions of dollars in renovating an antiquated Eastern Wayne Middle School campus, Wayne County Commissioner Jack Best told fellow commissioners at their board meeting Tuesday.

The other commissioners did not back Best's suggestion, saying that although more talks with the school board might be productive, changing the school building plan at such a late date would endanger funding.

Also, any changes need to come from the school board, commissioners said.

The county plans to finance more than $7 million in renovations and building projects at Norwayne and Eastern Wayne middle schools by selling $15 million in federal bonds. The county would use lottery proceeds to pay the principle and local money to pay the interest. However, the federal government would reimburse the county annually for the interest.

The bonds have to be sold by Dec. 31.

County Manager Lee Smith reminded commissioners that because of the way the projects are being funded, the county would assume ownership of the properties.

Best floated his idea after questioning whether or not more than $1 million in drainage improvements at Eastern Wayne would work as planned.

Plans for Eastern Wayne Middle now call for piping to carry storm water to what is basically an underground holding area where the water would seep into the ground.

But even if it does work, the project still merely puts a "pretty facade" on what remains an old and outdated facility, Best said.

"Within two to three miles of the school is a campus at Greenwood that has over 50 acres and we have just spent a couple million dollars over there kind of getting it up to date," he said. "It only has 500 to 550 students."

Eastern Wayne is only about 500 to 550 students as well, Best said.

The state is in a "financial drain" and cuts in education can be expected, he warned, and that means the county is going to have to be more efficient in how the schools are run.

"It appears to me that the efficiency of running one school with 1,200 students rather than two schools with 550 students in them would be a start in the right direction of becoming more efficient," he said. "It would also give you a more diverse student population ... and to be more efficient, I would consider, in the long run," Best said.

Moving students to Greenwood would create a more diverse student population while eliminating the need to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars for mobile units to house students while the Eastern Wayne campus is renovated, Best added.

"They think it (drainage) will work, but I have my doubts," he said.

Best said Eastern Wayne Middle is built at the bottom of a bowl-shaped area.

"Think about the rains that we have in Goldsboro and Wayne County. We have spring showers that basically any drain system can take. But some of the storms that we have in the fall and even in the spring, when we have one of these frog rains that come down in sheets, it takes a lot of drainage."

Commissioner Sandra McCullen asked Smith about his knowledge of similar drainage systems. Smith said he had only heard of such system used for individual homes or subdivisions in areas of high water tables.

"They are managed by an entity that watches them and you have to pay as a homeowner to be in these things to manage and watch them and you are assessed every year," he said.

Smith said he had asked the architect about it the day commissioners toured the campus and had been told that it "should work."

"I told (schools Superintendent) Dr. (Steve) Taylor last week we have to have something behind this to make sure it does work because we cannot cut the ribbon and then have a three-inch rain in 30 minutes and have kids standing in ankle-deep water," Smith said. "That cannot happen because that is just going to be bad for the county commissioners, school board and everybody and for the kids more importantly and it could damage the school.

"That is what happened in the past. They have had damage to floors. I mean all kind of issues. We are dependent on these engineers to get it right."

Mrs. McCullen said she had spoken with engineers who told her it would work.

Commissioner Andy Anderson said he also had questions similar to Best's.

Anderson said he would like to see a meeting between the two boards without any "dog and pony show." Best agreed.

"I changed my mind about Norwayne. They came up with a first-rate plan. But Eastern Wayne is a poor, poor way to spend taxpayers' money," Best said.

Commissioner Steve Keen said he was concerned about the project timeline and asked Smith what would happen if the plan was to be "derailed" and if there would be a problem getting the funds. Smith said the timeline is tight and that the window of time to make any changes would close within 30 to 60 days. Changes made before then probably could be made. It would be close, but possible, he said.

Commissioner Steve Keen asked how the move from Eastern Wayne to Greenwood would be accomplished. The school board could better answer that question, Best said.

"I am not trying to derail this. I am trying to find a better 50-year solution," he said.

Best said he knows that some people believe he is against the schools. That is not the case, he said.

"I have given them a way to be positive with a way to be more efficient with our money," he said. "I am only one vote and the school board has been out soliciting votes to make sure this county commission spends $7 million on the dumbest project that I have ever seen. It's not quite the dumbest, but it is the second dumbest."

Commissioner John Bell questioned whether the community would support the change.

"I don't know how the community out there is going to feel about moving their school," he said. "You know how people are about schools, community schools."