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Article 50
Published: Wednesday, July 15, 2009 at 5:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, July 15, 2009 at 12:01 a.m.
County buys Davidson Country Day School

By Heather J. Smith
The Dispatch

When the Davidson County Board of Commissioners were presented a contract to buy the former Davidson Country Day School for $1.8 million at their meeting Tuesday, all members agreed it was a deal, but not all agreed the county should take it.

After a lengthy debate of the good and bad things surrounding the purchase, commissioners voted 4-3 to buy the property from Davidson Academy, Inc. for relocation of one or more county agencies.

Commissioners Dr. Max Walser, Chairman Fred McClure, Billy Joe Kepley and Cathy Dunn voted for the purchase. Larry Potts, Sam Watford and Don Truell voted against it.

This spring, Davidson Country Day School moved out of its location on West Center Street Extension after administrators said the private school could not afford the mortgage on the property. The Bank of North Carolina held the mortgage on the buildings, fixtures and furniture on 11 acres, but ownership remained with Davidson Academy, Inc., the not-for-profit corporation that operated the school.

Davidson County began considering the property as a new location for many of its departments — recreation, the agricultural extension, senior services and others are housed in cramped quarters and need larger facilities.

Late in Tuesday’s meeting, County Attorney Charles Frye presented commissioners a $1.825 million purchasing agreement for the property with a closing date of Aug. 28.

Potts said economic conditions were too sour for the county to justify the expense.

“I think it’s the wrong property at the wrong place at definitely the wrong time and I’m against it,” Potts said.

Watford agreed, saying forecasts that the economy will get better are still uncertain. Until the economy actually gets better, Watford favored the county deciding against the purchase.

Walser said he agreed with Potts and Watford about times being hard, but he saw it as a chance to buy a finished facility valued at $3.5 million and in good shape, for much less.

“I know the economy is bad right now but I don’t think an opportunity like this will come along again for the rest of our tenure on this board,” Walser said.

While admitting it was a great price and the county needs expansion space, Truell said the board should consider what the public can afford.

“The people of this county have to pay for it through their taxes,” Truell said. “I can’t support it.”
Kepley supported the purchase, calling the price and circumstance a golden opportunity the county will not see again once the economy picks back up.

His opinions were echoed by Dunn.

“If we’re going to spend the taxpayers money, it should be on the people,” she said.

Instead of the county buying something only the county would use, classroom space could be used for activities by senior services, the gym for hosting games organized by the recreation department and other uses that would directly benefit the public. She said the price offered the county would be much less than the price of buying land, designing a building, hiring a contractor and finishing the interior.

But other commissioners’ opposition held.

“The government is growing here, but nothing else is,” Truell said. The opposite should be true, he said, while the private sector flourished.

“How is it growing?” asked McClure.

“We’ve got us a bridge and now we’re talking about buying a gym,” Truell said. “We have schools and a jail we need to build.”

McClure interjected that taxes will not be raised to pay for the property and the county has saved money in the past by investing wisely.

“As Commissioner Dunn said, you put money into savings for emergencies, but sometimes you use it for opportunities,” McClure said.

Eventually, senior services will need a new location, he said, as will several other county departments. Instead of waiting until the need and price grow higher, McClure argued, it could buy two buildings and acreage to expand for significantly less than the cost of new construction.

“How can we pass up a turnkey facility at this price?” McClure asked.

Still, Potts made the motion to deny purchase, saying an excellent county staff deserves better facilities but the economy was too troubled for him to support the purchase. The motion failed.

Heather J. Smith can be reached at 249-3981, ext. 228 or at heatherj.smith@the-dispatch.com.

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