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November 14. 2007 9:00AM
County commissioners OK purchase of pod for school system

The Dispatch

The Davidson County Board of Commissioners approved the purchase of a multi-classroom mobile pod unit at its meeting Monday night. The pod is meant to relieve the crowding of an elementary school in the growing northeastern section of the county.

The vote was approved 6-1. Commissioner Sam Watford opposed.

Dr. Fred Mock, superintendent of Davidson County Schools, presented the request to split the cost of a $910,000 pod unit between county government and the Davidson County Board of Education. The mobile unit will have eight rooms, seven classrooms and a storage room, with separate restrooms for boys, girls and faculty.

Mock said the school continues to outgrow its confines. There are already mobile units on the school grounds in addition to the planned "modular" pod units to be in place by next school year. The superintendent told commissioners that ideally he would have waited until budget time to ask for the county's financial help on the project, but he felt he could not wait until next spring or summer to get an answer from the board to have the new classrooms set up by August.

Enrollment has swelled at Wallburg. According to the school's Web site, there were 901 students attending the school on Sept. 1. Mock told commissioners that number has risen to 960 in a little more than two months. The superintendent said the growing trend is also noticeable at Ledford Middle School.

"There's no end to it," Dr. Max Walser, a county commissioner, said. "Obviously we've got a problem in that area. I don't know what the answer is."

Commissioners asked whether there could be anymore permanent construction added to the building. Mock said there could be, but he said he wouldn't recommend it because of the school's smaller lot size compared to other schools.

The modular units will cost about $70 per square foot, Buddy Kiger, head of school construction projects, told the board. That's less than half the cost per square foot, $145, that the county is paying for the still-under-construction Tyro Elementary School. A 103-seat mobile cafeteria was also approved by the county. It will connect to the existing cafeteria via enclosed corridor.

Eventually, a new school will have to be built in the Wallburg area, Mock said.

Watford said he felt there could have been better planning when the school system drew district lines between Wallburg and Friendship Elementary School.

"It looks to me that somebody made an error when drawing the lines," Watford said.

Friendship's enrollment is listed at 451 on its Web site, less than half of Wallburg's enrollment. Friendship opened two years ago. Watford said he thought Friendship "is not that crowded," and that maybe the schools should look at shifting some students.

There are two classrooms not being used at Friendship right now, Mock said, but he said enrollment projections have indicated all of the classrooms at Friendship will be utilized full-time next year. And he couldn't justify changing the district lines for just one year.

Assistant County Manager Zeb Hanner said the county planned to pay its share of the Wallburg improvements, $455,000, with state Average Daily Membership funds. But the county cannot use those funds for capital projects, so Hanner said other funds would have to be shifted to clear the way for the classroom and cafeteria additions. Hanner said the county has about $800,000 in ADM funds from the state that it does not budget for, in case of certain problems like the one at Wallburg arise.

The school board plans to pay its half from the school system's general fund balance.

Commissioner Larry Potts said the county may actually be able to save money by purchasing the pod now instead of waiting until next summer when they will be in hot demand from other school systems. Mock said the pod units are mobile and may be moved to possibly accommodate another school in the future.

"The school board and the staff's done its homework," Commissioner Billy Joe Kepley said. "I wish I could come up with an experimental solution, but I don't see it. I've looked hard."

In other news:

By a 5-2 vote, commissioners decided to discuss the county's space needs study at its yet-to-be-determined winter retreat. Commissioners Fred McClure and Larry Allen felt the results of the study should be discussed sooner than late January or early February, when the commissioners traditionally meet for their annual retreat.

Commissioners approved a contract with Richardson Smith Gardner & Associates Inc. to conduct a landfill gas-to-energy feasibility study to be complete within 120 days.

The county board approved a $245,000 contract with Martin, Boal, Anthony and Johnson Architects out of Charlotte to design the new Central Davidson area elementary school.

Commissioners will next meet at 7 p.m. Nov. 27 on the fourth floor of the County Governmental Center.

Seth Stratton can be reached at 249-3981, ext. 226, or seth.stratton@the-dispatch.com.

That's all for now.

Check back later for additional articles.

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