School bond issue is forum topic

Published 12:00 am Monday, July 12, 2004

JACKSON – In an ongoing effort to educate citizens, the Northampton County Board of Education has scheduled another public information meeting concerning the school bond referendum that is included on next week’s Primary ballot.

The latest of these informative meetings is set for a 7 p.m. start on Thursday (July 15) at the Conway Middle School auditorium. The meeting is expected to last approximately 90 minutes.

In one week (July 20), Northampton County registered voters will decide the fate of the bond, which would allow the county to borrow the funds necessary to construct a new elementary school facility and administrative building and perform repairs on existing buildings.

In essence, the referendum is seeking citizen consent to utilize money earmarked for education, already collected from sales tax, to go towards paying off general obligation bonds for a school facility that would better serve the students in the community.

If the bond passes on the 20th, students from Jackson Eastside and Seaboard-Coates Elementary Schools would be consolidated into one location, maximizing the benefit to students/faculty by providing them with greater access to contemporary technological resources without raising taxes.

The proposed new elementary school would be equipped with a multi-purpose room, nutrition and indoor exercise center, state of the art technology and safety features, a media center, individual bathrooms in the classrooms and classrooms that meet modern standards, giving the facility five-star licensure potential not possible in the existing building.

Assistant Superintendent of Northampton County Schools Phil Matthews explained. &uot;We are in desperate need of new facilities. Jackson Eastside Elementary, which was built in 1942, has only nine teaching stations with others in mobile units. The heating system is in bad shape with leaks in the seam lines and is located in a building that has been condemned as unusable and the use of window unit air conditioning units are being employed because there is no central AC.

&uot;The facility, which was converted to serve the districts handicapped pre-kindergarteners is straining the capacity and does not meet today’s standards.&uot;

He went on to say that in addition to those inadequacies, the school provided no indoor play area, had insufficient parking and had to convert the media center into a classroom because the site was so small it could not support the needs of faculty and students.

Matthews included information about Seaboard Coates Elementary School citing that the facility was in good shape but failed to meet student needs.

The school was converted to serve the needs of handicapped students within the district, but falls short of meeting current standards, straining the capacity of the facility.

However, with the help of grant money, the school was able to obtain a new roof, floors, lights and electrical upgrades and a new HVAC system with individual room climate controls and can be used to effectively serve the needs of students in alternative education programs.

&uot;The building is in good condition for being constructed in 1957 and 1963,&uot; he commented.

Northampton County Superintendent Dr. James Pickens explained that the cost associated with maintaining the old structures would be counterproductive in the long term.

&uot;The new school would be a savings to the county because we wouldn’t be plugging money into an educationally and energy deficient building that isn’t able to meet the changing needs of students and faculty,&uot; noted Pickens.

Pickens explained that it would be more effective to invest in the construction of a new facility rather than dumping resources into an old one that the county couldn’t afford to rebuild should it sustain great damage from a hurricane or the like and added, &uot;We run the risk of putting the county behind if we continue down the path of maintaining the older structures.&uot;

Additionally, the Seaboard Coates facility would not be decommissioned as plans call for it to become a system-wide alternative school. Matthews said the operation of that school would be funded largely through the state, which sends additional financial assistance for such programs.

&uot;The ability for Northampton County to afford a $9 million bond has been researched by the Northampton County School Board and the Northampton County Commissioners with the assistance of auditors and The Institute of Government,&uot; said Matthews, &uot;and it has been determined that the county can afford the bond.&uot;

A portion of the funds would be designated for roof repairs to some of the existing buildings as well as the construction of a new administration building.

&uot;I encourage the citizens of the county will take the time to make themselves knowledgeable about the bond,&uot; said Matthews. &uot;My fear is that people will mistakenly think that voting in favor of the bonds will cost them more money, but I hope they will familiarize themselves with the issue so they can make an informed decision.&uot;

He also extended an invitation for those interested in obtaining additional information to contact him at the Central Office (534-1371).