Architects vie for high school project

Published 9:36 am Thursday, October 15, 2009

JACKSON — Options abound for the Northampton County Board of Education as the selection process for an architect to build a new high school has been narrowed down to two.

On Monday evening, board members heard from two architectural firms, Moseley Architects and SFL+a Architects. Each was given an hour for their presentations.

It is now up to the Facilities Committee, headed by Board member Charles Tyner, to come up with a recommendation to be decided upon by the Board of Education.

Tyner said the committee will have that recommendation prepared for the next board meeting, scheduled for November 2.

At the meeting, Board of Education members were joined by Commission Chair Robert Carter and Vice Chair Fannie Greene of the Northampton County Board of Commissioners.

Before the presentations began, board members likened the relationship they hope to have with the selected firm to a marriage.

“We’re looking, seeking to build a comprehensive high school,” said Tyner, about the board’s desire to build one centrally located high school.

The firms presented on their experience, how the project could be financed and what kind of building could be constructed.

First up was Moseley Architects, a firm that has offices in North Carolina and Virginia.

Moseley’s James N. Copeland said his firm has a lot of experience with designing education buildings. Among Moseley’s projects are T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, Va. and Carborro High School, the latter was a school visited by the Board of Education.

“This is our bread and butter,” said Copeland about the firm’s experience with designing schools.

Moseley Architect’s proposal would come with a contractor, Barnhill Contracting Company, already on board.

Copeland stressed Moseley and Barnhill are not interested in the “developer approach” of owning and operating the school on a long term basis.

The firm is offering to design, build and finance the construction of the school with interim financing and a buy out provision upon occupancy of the school by 2012.

Barnhill would secure a construction loan on behalf of the county, start and complete construction and carry the loan until 2012. The county would then apply for USDA Rural Development funding in order to pay off the loan.

“We have assumed a 40- year loan on these funds that carry a rate of 4.5 percent and yield an annual payment of $1,030,000,” said Copeland.

It was added with this scenario, the only cost to the school system between now and 2012 would be architectural and engineering fees for the planning of the school.

SFL+a Architects, a Charlotte-based firm, also brought experience designing educational buildings to the table, including high schools in Clinton, Union and Midway.

SFL+a President and CEO Robbie Farris spoke about capital leasing as well as USDA funding and tax credits that could save the school system up to 20 percent.

Farris noted the capital leasing legislation (G.S. 115C-530 and G.S. 115C-531) was approved a few years ago and the Board’s Attorney Rod Malone was involved with the team that helped to write the law. Capital leasing allows the school system to enter into operational leasing agreements.

He presented an option that priced a 140,000 square foot building at $22.4 million. With design time included, the project would be completed within three years. Tax credits of nearly $4.5 million could also be beneficial to the board. Farris said annual payments could be as low as $1.2 million.

Ferris also suggested that while design and construction activities are progressing, the board start saving for soft costs (furniture and technology) that would reduce the price of the project. Those costs were estimated at approximately $2 million.

Ferris added grants could also be obtained by the school system for furniture and technology.

Vice Chair Bill Little questioned who would be working for the school system under this scenario.

Ferris said the school system would contract with First Floor, SFL+a’s development company, which would handle the finances for the project. SFL+a would then design the project.

“And from there it’s no different than any other project,” he said.