By Kristen Johnson
That was the message Tuesday night as the Davidson County Board of Commissioners voted 6-1 to fund $4.9 million worth of a $5.6 million expansion to Thomasville Middle School.
Thomasville City Schools superintendent Dr. Daniel Cockman told commissioners before the vote that the school board had $250,000 in funds from the engineering and design phase of the expansion and an additional $300,000 in the school system’s general fund balance to put toward the cost of construction.
“We’re serious about this,” Cockman told commissioners.
The expansion would be built between the existing middle school’s end wall and the T. Austin Finch Auditorium. Plans call for the addition of 30,900 square feet. An additional 7,599 square feet of space will be renovated.
It would include a renovation of the existing cafeteria and new bathrooms on both levels.
Downstairs, construction workers will build a new computer classroom, five new classrooms, and four small instruction rooms to be used for quiet study or remediation work with a teacher. One existing classroom would also be renovated.
On the upstairs level, two new science labs would be built, along with a new keyboard room and three classrooms. Two existing classrooms would be renovated.
The expansion would also include two stairwells at opposite corners of the new wing. The building’s corners will be glass.
Tuesday’s vote was met with thunderous applause from Thomasville municipal and school officials in the audience, though it caused sharp debate amongst the commissioners.
Board vice-chair Sam Watford, who cast the lone dissenting vote, delivered what was arguably his longest speech since having been elected.
“I’m the only person up here who seems to be concerned about where this $5 million is coming from,” he said. “I can see you have a need for it, but I can’t in good faith vote to support this expansion because I don’t know how we’ll pay for it.”
Reading from a list, Watford ticked off several elementary schools from around the county and listed their square-footage.
Based upon that comparison, he said, Thomasville Middle School is “far from overcrowded.”
“This is $5 million we can’t even borrow this year,” he said. “There just is no way to do this without adding at least a nickel to our property tax rate.
“We need to slow down. I was taught that you shouldn’t live beyond your means, and this is the ultimate example of doing that. I can’t support this.”
Watford’s comments drew sharp criticism from other commissioners, who each stressed the ever-growing need for more educational space.
“Four years ago, we were six schools behind,” commissioner Priscilla Hege said. “We’re not going to catch up, but we can at least get a running start.”
Officials originally estimated a cost of just $4 million for the expansion — but that was last year, and construction materials costs for concrete and steel have increased considerably.
The expansion cost will be funded through the School Capital ADM Fund. Davidson County will borrow additional funds when the county is again bank qualified.
Staff writer Kristen Johnson can be reached at 472-9500, ext. 232, or at email@example.com.
Published Thursday, November 25, 2004