Board delays high school decision

Published 10:49 am Thursday, February 25, 2010

JACKSON — To go the route of a general obligation bond to build a new high school or with a public/private partnership?

That was the very question that made the Northampton County Board of Commissioners decided to put their decision on hold in regards to building a new high school.

At their recent meeting, the commissioners briefly discussed some research County Manager Wayne Jenkins had done on the topic, but ultimately decided to delay their decision on whether or not to construct a newer more centrally located high school as desired by the Northampton County Board of Education.

One major contributing factor to that decision was that only three of the five commissioners were in attendance at the meeting. Commission Vice Chair James Hester and Commissioner Chester Deloatch were absent due to sickness and another commitment, respectively.

The new high school is estimated to cost $19.2 million with a public/private partnership with Northampton County Schools and Firstfloor.

That partnership would have the school system purchase the site. Meanwhile, a non profit would be formed through Firstfloor and the high school would be built. Firstfloor would then lease the facility back to the school system for 40 years and the high school would eventually revert back to the school system. There would be no payment due until the building is occupied.

SFL+a Architects would be responsible for the design of a new energy efficient building which would be eligible for tax credits.

With traditional procurement the new school would cost $24 million.

Jenkins briefed the three commissioners in attendance about his research on the topic thus far.

Jenkins said he has met with Northampton County Schools’ Phil Matthews, Firstfloor’s Rick Green and SFL+a’s Rick Ferris along with USDA Rural Development’s Doug Causey. He also has met with Mary Rusher with Hunton and Williams.

“This is a revolutionary financial arrangement,” said Board Attorney Charles Vaughan. “Have you talked to the Attorney General’s office?”

Jenkins said the public/private partnership had not been done in the state, though there were talks in Wake, Iredell and Cumberland counties. He added those stopped when they got to the county level.

Another route the county could take would be a general obligation bond which would require a public vote.

Commissioner Virginia Spruill was uncomfortable with the board making the decision.

“I think we need to go the referendum route,” she said.

“We’ve never indebted Northampton County with this kind of debt without it going before them (in a referendum),” said Jenkins.

Commissioner Robert Carter suggested to Chairwoman Fannie Greene to hold their decision on the high school.

Greene agreed in delaying the decision.

Jenkins noted the board had a tough decision ahead.

“Do you take this on yourselves or let the public decide,” he questioned.