01/16/13 — School board retains facilities plan

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School board retains facilities plan

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on January 16, 2013 1:46 PM

The Board of Education voted Tuesday to retain the remaining projects on its 2007 prioritized facilities plan, and when it holds a joint meeting with the county commissioners will seek additional funding for maintenance needs in the district.

The latest facilities plan is still valid, school board members said during the 75-minute work session in preparation for a requested meeting between the two boards to discuss the biggest issues in education.

The $103 million plan originally contained nine of the most pressing items and included such projects as a multipurpose room/gym and cafeteria at Brogden Primary School, now complete, and demolition and replacement buildings at Norwayne and Eastern Wayne middle schools, which are currently wrapping up.

Five projects remain -- in order, $6.5 million in renovation projects in the central attendance area, additional classrooms at Spring Creek Elementary and Charles B. Aycock High schools and new schools in Grantham and the northern end of the county -- for a total of $82 million.

The first order of business was to determine whether to keep the plan intact or come up with a new one.

Dr. Craig McFadden, assistant superintendent for accountability/student services, discussed student population patterns before and since the facilities plan was made.

For the most part, he said enrollment at schools in the northern end of the county increased before the plan was approved, leveled off for a period and have since increased again.

"I expect in the next couple years or so we're going to end up with 1,300 or so at CBA," he said.

The exception, he pointed out, was at Southern Wayne High School, which he said had steadily declined over the years.

"There's nothing in the student population statistics that would indicate there's a need for a change in our plan," he said. "There was a need in 2006-07, it's still a need today."

Nan Barwick, assistant superintendent for fiscal services, explained why the amount for projects in the central attendance area, which covers the six city schools, had dropped from $8.8 million down to $6.5 million. She said several things on the list had already been completed, estimating that three-fourths of the projects are considered maintenance.

There is a difference between capital improvements and maintenance, several board members suggested, and that should come into play when considering funding requests from the commission.

"(The commission) has not contributed enough to our schools to keep them up for the last 25 years and we're way behind," said board member Arnold Flowers. "If we have capital improvement needs, and we have got to build classrooms but we have got to keep what we have got. Some of this is maintenance but it should have already been done.

"We need to make a clear and concise agreement to the board of commissioners. We need to go to the county commissioners at budget time and say we need a million or $2 million and we need it now. I really think we're not doing our job if we don't go to the county commissioners and let them know that our schools are in disrepair."

Flowers said it concerned him that maintenance is included in a capital improvements plan, especially when deciding requests from the local funding source.

"I don't know if we're going to put a time frame on this or not. The need is there and I just, some rough numbers, if you take what the county has spent over the last five years up to July of 2012, it figures out to be about $4 million a year," he said.

Board member Rick Pridgen agreed that it would be helpful if the commission could supplement its funding for maintenance while moving ahead with other projects.

"I think when we come to the table with it, we need to explain these priorities here and say we can handle this if you beef up what we're getting and you know, outlay that budget over the next few years and let's sit down, y'all, and talk about how we can build some of these schools," he said.

Since the commission began pushing for the joint meeting in recent months, one of the first questions was whether the 2007 facilities plan and the priority order are still relevant.

The school board agreed that the most pressing need will always be overcrowded classrooms, with the schools superintendent adding that technology infrastructure needs are also looming large.

Like any homeowner, though, maintaining properties remains an ongoing issue.

"We need to be fair and consistent with maintenance dollars," said board member Chris West. "We have maintenance issues countywide.

"We need to know up front whether they're going to be able to entertain the ideas of increasing maintenance for our schools or not. That's going to greatly influence my vote."

"Once the county commissioners determine how much funding they'll provide for us, that will dictate where we go," said Dr. Steven Taylor, schools superintendent.

Pridgen suggested the list be divided into a construction side and a maintenance side.

Ultimately, the board made the decision to present the plan as is, move forward with the joint meeting, and hopefully open dialogue about maintenance issues as well as the capital improvements projects.