11/01/13 — Board hears school options

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Board hears school options

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

The architect hired by the Wayne County Board of Education to design two new schools rolled out three possible design options and a construction timeline Thursday, but his hopes of getting the go-ahead from the Wayne County Board of Education were delayed by the board's desire to obtain more information about how to pay for the projects.

Robert Ferris, CEO and president of SfL+a, was invited by the board to give the presentation, which the board called a "starting point" for the upcoming projects to build schools at Grantham and Spring Creek Middle.

Ferris laid out three examples of schools his firm had previously done, along with a variety of options -- with or without an auditorium and a menu of choices that included "everything you need to move into the building but the teachers and the children."

Ideally, Ferris said, he hoped to finish the session with a decision from the board in order to move forward on his proposed construction timeline. He said he also factored in input from the county Board of Commissioners and buying land for the projects.

Ferris' proposal has construction scheduled to start as early as April, which would have the projects completed by the fall of 2015.

The holdup, though, centered around how to pay for them.

The board had been working under a $35.3 million price range for the two schools, or approximately $17 million each. It had already agreed that the time is right to proceed, as funding is available without having to request a tax increase.

SfL+a was chosen for the projects because of the appeal of "lease purchase," which means the architect would own the schools for a minimum of five years while the school district pays to lease them. Future lottery and sales tax revenue would be used to pay the lease.

The architect's presentation Thursday, however, provided more food for thought as he described a wide range of amenities the board had not previously considered.

In addition to site plans, Ferris discussed an array of items that could be included as part of the "turnkey" effort -- from ballfields and lighting to band instruments and uniforms. He said the board could customize the layout of the building as well as the menu of choices.

Board members debated how the items might affect the price tag -- which could bump the range from $17 million to up to $25 million per school.

"Over a 20-year time period could we meet this obligation? We have got to consider where we normally get the money from. What kinds of budget you have got that you pull that from?" said board member Rick Pridgen. "Could we feasibly make the payments?"

Nan Barwick, assistant superintendent for fiscal services, said she had been looking at capital outlay figures in working up the plan's budget.

"I would need to go back and revisit (this) because you would have to look at all the other funding we might have been looking at," she said.

"I don't think we're in a position to be able to say this because we know what we have allocated for the building," Pridgen said. "We just don't know where we would take the funds from to put it together."

The board did reach a consensus on a couple of issues -- favoring a layout that grouped students together by grade and including an auditorium in the plans.

"I don't think there's any question about the communities that surround Grantham and Spring Creek buying into an auditorium," Pridgen said.

"Personally, I would be in favor of seeing what we can swing for two schools, if the commissioners have a couple million," said Board Chairman John Grantham. "Would y'all be in favor of doing that?"

"I don't have any problem asking," board member Arnold Flowers said.

Board member Thelma Smith said that in hindsight it would have been nice to have held the meeting in either the Spring Creek or Grantham communities so parents could have also heard the architect's presentation.

"I do believe you would get their full support," she said. "Lots of time we've left out the very people that we need to consult.

"They would have appreciated this so much. I believe they would have dug some potatoes if they had to get these schools built."

Board member Chris West asked the architect what his "absolute deadline" would be to keep things on schedule. Ferris replied that he would need to know something in the next week and a half.

"It's going to take more meetings than we're used to having," Grantham said.

But board members indicated they were ready to roll up their sleeves now that they are closer than ever to building new schools.

"It's a big puzzle that we have got to put together," West said.

"These new schools have been on the list for years and I see it coming together with our board and the commissioners, people in Wayne County," Superintendent Dr. Steven Taylor said. "I believe it's going to be exciting around here the next few months. Once the commissioners see these plans, they're going to be excited."