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Board of Commissioners approve funding for new middle school

by ERIN WILTGEN Thomasville Times
November 2010

LEXINGTON — Davidson County Board of Commissioners approved funding for a new middle school and voted to OK a bid for construction recommended by the Davidson County Board of Education. The final vote of 6-1 came after about an hour of debating — and didn’t come easy.

Lyon Construction, of King, was awarded the $18 million bid to construct the new middle school to be built at the intersection of Midway School Road and Hoy Long Road. The school will mainly serve students from the Ledford and North Davidson districts.

“The fact of the matter is that North Davidson and Ledford middle schools are grossly overcrowded,” said Commissioner Billy Joe Kepley. “We have access to millions of dollars that are interest free, we’ve probably got the best contract prices that have been written down since the Great Depression. I say let’s get with it.”

The entire estimated cost of the middle school totals to about $24.5 million. The county will pay $3 million from its fund balance and use $13 million in interest-free Qualified School Construction Bonds (QSCB). About $7 million will come from the N.C. Education Lottery, while the Board of Education will cover the additional $1.6 million from the school system’s fund balance.

It is possible that taxes will have to be raised by a penny in 2014 to help pay off the costs of the new school.

“Projections right now are yes,” said Assistant Davidson County Manager Zeb Hanner, referring to the current Capital Improvement Plan. Hanner added that there are many factors that go into that projection, and the board could push back other projects or hope for a much improved economy to prevent the increase.

Despite agreement across the board that the middle school needed to be built, and soon, some commissioners did find logistical issues with the contract. Commissioners Larry Potts and Sam Watford pointed to land elevation issues, questioning the need to cart truckloads of dirt off the construction site only to potentially bring them back later to level the ground.

Architectural firm Walter Robbs Callahan & Pierce staff recommended that 18,000 cubic yards of soil be removed primarily because it could have been disturbed by agricultural activities that rendered it unsuitable to build on. Clark Pierce, architect, told Potts that leaving the soil on site was an option, though not a decision the firm could make without county or school board approval.

Another concern involved using asphalt over concrete. Commissioner Fred McClure questioned why the board had not chosen a company that had priced concrete much lower than other bidders.

McClure, who alone voted against approval of the bid and funding, emphasized a desire to answer these questions before proceeding. Though the board operates under a tight schedule — what with QSCB bonds technically having a sell-by deadline of Jan. 1 and only a verbal extension from the state — McClure asked to delay a decision until the Dec. 14 meeting.

“I know the situation up there, I know, and I’m all for building the school,” McClure said. “If the only way we could do this was to vote on this tonight, I’d vote on this tonight. But there’s zero reason to have to vote on this thing tonight. We can vote on Dec. 14 and we will not have lost anything at all, but we will have gained the time to answer some questions.”

Others expressed more concern about a necessity of haste, pointing to a change in government come January and the potential for withdrawal of funds, including the QSCB bonds.

“With the new government that’s coming in at the state and federal level, we really don’t know what’s going to be coming down in the next few weeks and months,” Commissioner Cathy Dunn. “The time is now.”

Watford seemed to have a foot in both camps.

There are some legitimate questions in there that need to be answered,” Watford said. “But that’s not enough reason to put this off. I think the best thing we can do tonight is approve our part of it, the funding part. We can go ahead and move forward with it tonight and get some questions answered before we sign the contract.”

The final approved motion includes an agreement with the school board to address any questions raised, requesting a report back to the commissioners next month, before a contract is signed. The county has until Jan. 8 to negotiate a contract.

If commissioners approve a contract in the next two months, Davidson County Schools Superintendent Dr. Fred mock said the system would like to open the school for the beginning of the 2012 year. Commision Chair Dr. Max Walser, who presided over his last meeting Tuesday, said he also negotiated with EnergyUnited to provide 25 solar panels to light the school cafeteria.

With a track record in education, Walser petitioned his fellow commissioners to trust the Board of Education to do its job.

“Obviously, I’m biased,” Walser said. “I favor education. It’s been my life. I respect our commissioners’ willingness and ability to dig into the contract. But I would like to remind you that while we are paying the check, you also have a five-member board of education that is elected by the people to make decisions that are in the best interest of the taxpayers. I trust them.”

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