08/01/13 — Commissioners' architect offers new construction proposal

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Commissioners' architect offers new construction proposal

By Steve Herring
Published in News on August 1, 2013 1:46 PM

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Architect Jimmy Hite uses a PowerPoint presentation to illustrate concept plans for a new Grantham Middle School as well as renovations at several other schools during Tuesday's joint meeting between Wayne County commissioners and the county Board of Education. Hite was hired by commissioners to develop the plans even though the school board already has an approved plan in place. No action is expected on the school projects until the county has a better idea of the costs involved.

The $6.6 million originally estimated that would be needed to renovate Charles B. Aycock High School has doubled to nearly $13 million, according to a projection for Wayne County school facilities that was presented Tuesday at a joint meeting of the county Board of Commissioners and the Board of Education.

The architect, who was hired by county commissioners and not the school board to draft the proposals, said he had based the Aycock plan on conversations he had with the school's principal.

The county has paid architect Jimmy Hite $2,500 to come up with a plan even though the school system already has one.

Hite's $33.5 million proposal for all the school projects was unveiled Tuesday during the five-hour meeting.

Some school board members and commissioners pushed to begin funding of smaller projects as soon as possible, while discussions continue about larger ones, including new schools.

Wayne County Manager Lee Smith said that while it would be possible to pay cash for some projects, that the county needs to ensure it keeps enough money in its fund balance to protect its ability to borrow and finance long-term debt.

The schools, he noted, are only a part of the county's $258 million overall capital improvement plan.

Funding and financing options discussed including a possible bond issue, although members of both boards expressed concerns that the public would not approve one. Both boards agreed that they would need to fully explain to the public the long-term effects of financing.

It would be possible to phase in projects over the course of several years using either financing or bonds, Smith said.

School Board Chairman John Grantham said he does not believe a bond issue would pass since people who don't have children in school likely would not be interested in borrowing the money.

Also, the time needed to put a bond referendum together could delay the start of the projects another year, he said.

"Right now the school board is unanimous on what we want to do. I think the people in the county for once, in however so many years, will be happy with what commissioners and the school board are doing together for the county," Grantham said.

"It is an opportunity that does not come along very often."

No decisions were reached. Instead, Smith and the county financial department staff and their counterparts in the school system will meet with representatives of Davenport and Associates, the consulting firm that assists the county in financial planning.

Commissioner John Bell said the meetings would provide a better picture of what the financial needs are, while offering options as well. The results of that meeting will be presented during the two elected bodies' next meeting Oct. 8.

Other school construction costs in Hite's proposal were more in line with the Wayne County Board of Education's facilities plan.

The proposal did not include a new $30 million K-8 Grantham Middle School commissioners have pushed for and instead included a middle school approach favored by the Board of Education.

The school board had estimated the cost of the middle school at $17.7 million compared to Hite's $15.6 million and an additional $1 million for site work for the Grantham project.

Hite's Aycock plan includes more new construction, including a larger cafeteria, a two-story 25-classroom addition, administration area and entrance.

Also included is $3.37 million for 12 new classrooms at Spring Creek Elementary School, compared to $3.85 million in the school board plan, and $1.6 million for projects at Goldsboro High School (student commons area) and air conditioning of the Dillard and Carver Heights gyms.

The school plan provided $1.6 million for projects at Dillard, Carver Heights and Goldsboro.

"This plan is not the plan the school board submitted," school board member Thelma Smith said.

The school system cannot afford that much for Charles B. Aycock unless it is going to be grouped with other new school construction, she said.

"Mrs. Thelma, what he (the architect) is saying is that he got some information from the principal," Grantham said. "The principal is not really in tune with our approved plans."

Grantham said that the principal is not aware of the expected population surge at the school that is expected go back down. As such, the five extra classrooms in the proposal could be eliminated, he said.

Also, the classrooms in the original plan were regular classrooms, not science rooms, which by law have to be larger. Building the original size classrooms would not be as expensive, school board members said.