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Discussion continues on QZAB funds

WINDSOR – It appears Bertie High School is on its way towards much-needed improvements.

However, there remains a strong feeling within the Bertie County Board of Commissioners that a new high school is needed.

At their mid-month meeting here Monday night, the commissioners continued their discussion on QZAB (Qualified Zone Academy Bonds) funds earmarked for improvements at the high school.

It was at their April 2 meeting where the board approved two resolutions that will pave the way for $2 million in much-needed renovations to the 40-plus-year-old high school.

At Monday night’s meeting, County Manager Zee Lamb confirmed the funds would be used to replace the roof on the main high school building and upgrade the heating and cooling systems. He added if any money remained it would be used to replace or repair roofs on other buildings located on the high school campus.

Lamb said the bonds must be issued prior to Dec. 31, 2007.

“Our target date on beginning this project is July,” Lamb said.

The County Manager added that the first payment ($100,000) on the zero interest loan will not be due until 2008.

After listening to Lamb’s presentation, the commissioners weighed in on the issue.

“If this bond money ties-up the high school for the length of the loan (15 years), then is this a commitment for renovation instead of a new high school,” Commissioner Wallace Perry asked.

“It is a commitment in that regard, but I’m still 100 percent in favor of building a new high school,” Commissioner Norman Cherry Sr. stressed. “I’m beyond patching (the high school). Yes, the roof is needed, but when money becomes available for a new high school then that’s the direction I’m looking at.”

Lamb reminded the commissioners they did everything within their power to use the money gained from approval of the 1998 statewide school bond referendum to construct a new high school.

“Because of faulty decisions, we don’t have a new high school,” Lamb said.

The QZAB discussion then turned to the 2003 funds the county received ($4 million) to renovate Bertie’s six elementary schools. Since that money was received, Bertie Public Schools has closed Askewville and J.P. Law elementary schools. Since both properties are locked under QZAB loan regulations, the county is not allowed to dispose of those schools.

Lamb reminded the board that $1.3 million of the $4 million in QZAB funds received in 2003 was used for renovations at the now closed schools. However, he did bring news that the county attorney, Lloyd Smith, was working towards a plan that would release that property.

To date, Bertie County has made three payments of $212,000 each towards the 2003 QZAB loan.

As far as the 2007 QZAB loan proposal was concerned, the commissioners gave approval for Lamb to forward the application to the Local Government Commission.

The next step in the process would be an architect’s analysis, putting the construction costs out for bids and obtaining proposals from banks to purchase the bonds.