Bertie officials discuss new high school

Published 12:29 pm Saturday, March 13, 2010

WINDSOR – There may be light at the end of the tunnel.

The Bertie County Commissioners spent nearly an hour discussing the possibility of building a new high school in the county and listening to a presentation from Robert Ferris of Shuller Ferris Lindstrom and Associates.

Bertie County Manager Zee Lamb said the Bertie County Board of Education had been looking at the possibility of constructing a new high school since last July. Commissioners had been reading about the proposal made to Northampton County by Ferris’ group and were interested in hearing more.

Ferris came Thursday night during the rescheduled meeting of the board to offer some possibilities for constructing a new high school across U.S. 13 from the existing Bertie High School facility.

“We believe a strong school cannot exist without a vibrant community and a vibrant community can’t exist without a strong school,” Ferris said.

He then talked about the vision of building a new high school in the county, allowing children to be a top priority and to build a facility that would be economical to construct, have low operating costs and be environmentally sensitive.

Ferris presented a pre-designed school to commissioners, similar to one which already exists at Clinton High School in Sampson County. The facility offers shared functions on the first floor of a two-story building. Those include an atrium, media center and cafeteria. The classroom sections would be on the second floor.

The cost of the new facility with a traditional delivery, meaning the commissioners would finance the building through normal sources, would be approximately $26.5 million for the 137,000-square foot facility which would hold approximately 800 students.

If the county agreed to an alternative strategy, a non-profit corporation would be formed to build the school. The corporation would lease the land on which the school would be built and then lease the school to the county. At the end of an agreed-upon term, the leases would end and the building would revert to the county since it was built on county property.

The cost for such a delivery would be approximately $21.5 million.

“All construction risks lie with us,” Ferris said. “Once the lease is signed, the price will not go up and the first lease payment is not due until occupancy.”

Ferris gave commissioners alternatives that would allow the lease price to be as little as $1 million per year and moving upward to approximately $1.09 million per year.

Commission Chairman Norman M. Cherry Sr. said one of the problems could be that there would only be space for 800 students when the current total high school number was around 850.

“The last thing I or any member of this board wants is to build a new school and in three years have to pull mobile (classroom) units up there,” Cherry said.

Lamb said commissioners would have to consult with school board members to find out if all of the county’s high schools – the Bertie STEM School, Bertie High School, Bertie Preparatory Academy and the Early College High School – would all be moved to a new facility.

He said if they wanted to utilize other buildings for any of those schools, it would change the number going into the new facility.

Ferris said the only deadline was that there was money available right now at four percent interest from the federal government, but that the deadline for application was in September.

“If you’re interested, we need to move forward with the application since it is funded by the date of the application,” he said.

Cherry said he felt the commissioners understood.

“We are on target with the urgency,” he said.

Lamb said the board would need to spend time working on the possibilities for funding before making a commitment.

“We certainly can’t go the traditional route,” Commissioner J. Wallace Perry said.

Commissioner Rick Harrell said nothing could be done until the commissioners approached the school board with the idea and got their support.

“We’ve got to have some discussion with the school board,” Harrell said. “We’re not going against the desires of the school board.”

The commissioners decided to bring up the issue at a joint meeting of the two boards scheduled for 2 p.m. Thursday. Ferris will also attend the meeting.