School construction proposal moves forward

Published 12:00 am Monday, January 5, 2004

JACKSON – A resolution requesting funds for the construction of school facilities as presented by Northampton County Superintendent James W. Pickens, Sr. on behalf of the Board of Education was approved, here Monday by the Northampton County Board of Commissioners.

According to Pickens, Northampton County schools are in need of significant renovations and improvements in order to continue to meet educational needs and ensure that the facilities remain safe and healthy for students and staff.

Having determined the level of renovations and improvements needed to existing facilities, members of the Board of Education shared their desire to construct buildings able to support the continuance of instructional programs and promote academic excellence.

&uot;It is the belief of the members of the Board of Education that the long-term interest of the citizens of Northampton County would be best served by the consolidation and closure of two elementary schools and the construction of a new elementary school,&uot; said Pickens.

He explained that, should it come to pass for the citizens to approve, in a referendum, the proposed plan to build a new elementary school to house students from Seaboard and Jackson Eastside Elementary schools, which would close.

&uot;Operating these two schools costs a lot of money,&uot; commented Board of Education member Charles Tanner. &uot;I guarantee that the heating cost for one facility would be less than it would cost to operate two older facilities and we want to invest money in something that will ensure a better future for our community, like a media center, for example. We don’t want to talk about the same roof repairs every year.&uot;

In addition to constructing a new elementary school, the board also desires to construct a new administration building and perform some major roofing repairs to four other school facilities in serious need.

Pickens said that maintaining the current administrative building is &uot;not economically, nor fiscally sound&uot; due to problems with the roof, floors, windows and mold and that the money spent maintaining the old building, constructed in 1925, would be better employed by building a new, more efficient facility with appropriate updates in technology.

The proposed administrative facility would be located on the same property as the current central office.

&uot;The administrative building is just as important as the school building,&uot; said Tanner. &uot;It will not pay to continue to sink money into the older facility. The amount of money it would cost to rewire everything to accommodate new technology wouldn’t be cost effective.&uot;

The Board of Education requested that the Northampton County Commissioners provide for a bond order that would authorize the sale of general obligation bonds to finance all or a portion of the total cost of the proposed project, which is estimated in excess of approximately $9 million. The issue would be voted on by the citizens of the county in the form of a referendum.

Pickens said that he would not be opposed to a suggestion made by Northampton County Manager Wayne Jenkins to remain &uot;open-minded&uot; and research the cost of executing repairs to the existing facility (central office) versus investing money in the construction of a new facility.

&uot;If we can save 15 percent of the existing building, then that would be less money spent in the construction of a new facility, but if that is not possible, then at least we know,&uot; said Jenkins.

Pickens also agreed to provide the Board of Commissioners with a &uot;project specific&uot; breakdown of the estimated $9million figure at the request of Commissioner Robert Carter on behalf of the citizens.

&uot;We have thought long and hard about the school situation because I am a taxpaying citizen of Northampton County and the reason we came up with the $9million is that we could float this bond with sales tax and right now we have a little surplus,&uot; said Tanner.

Pickens stated that, per a request made by Chairwoman Virginia Spruill, he would not be opposed to waiting until the November ballot to add the bond referendum in order to allow the county to devote the necessary time it needs to to budget matters.

&uot;We will work diligently towards being ready for adding the bond referendum to the ballot, whether it be in May or November,&uot; said Pickens.

&uot;I believe this is a good opportunity for Northampton County citizens to see us working together with the County Commissioners,&uot; said Tanner. &uot;The Board of Ed is here and we’re ready to move forward.&uot;

Jenkins commended both boards for their cooperation.