Citizens to weigh in on new high school

Published 9:48 am Monday, June 25, 2012

WINDSOR – People in Bertie County will have the opportunity to speak their mind about the proposed new Bertie High School.

Monday evening, the Bertie County Commissioners will hold a public hearing concerning the financing of the project.

At 7 p.m. the commissioners plan to hold the hearing on the proposed installment funding contract so as to hear public input on the project. The meeting will be held in the Commissioners Room in the County Office Building located on Dundee Street.

During this past Monday’s meeting of the commissioners, citizen Donnie Taylor spoke in the public comment section. He asked what exactly the public hearing was for and what comments would be allowed.

Commission Chairman L.C. Hoggard III said the board would receive public comments on all aspects of building the school.

During an interview Friday morning, Hoggard said the public hearing would allow citizens to have input into the process.

“During our last meeting with the board of education, the commissioners and members of the school board felt it would be a good idea to hear from the public as we move forward,” he said. “We want the citizens to be able to express their feelings about the school and, at the same time, continue to be open about what we’re trying to do.”

Hoggard said the situation was difficult because times were tough economically for everyone, including the county. He said the school was necessary, however, and that if it can be worked out, now is the time to build because of lower construction costs.

The commissioners and school board have been working together to build a high school to replace the current structure which was built in the 1960s. The current plan is to build the school across U.S. 13 from the current facility and adjacent to Bertie Middle School.

The plan as it stands is for the Bertie County Commissioners to build the new school with $18 million in Qualified School Construction Bonds with the Bertie County Board of Education planning for use of the facility.

The commissioners hired Hite Architecture to design the facility and build it. The plans originally called for the structure to be built within the $18 million budget.

The first problem came earlier this year when Jimmy Hite, on behalf of his firm, came to the commissioners to inform them that the soil at the proposed site was worse than anticipated and it would cost an additional amount, almost $1 million, for site prep.

Then in May, bids came back higher than anticipated with a total cost of nearly $21 million. Commissioners were not pleased with the outcome, but authorized Davenport and Company – the county’s financial planners – to proceed with asking the Local Government Commission for approval to borrow up to $22.5 million for the project.

The commissioners then directed the school board to review the plans with Hite and see if they could cut the cost of the facility back to the $18 million which had previously been approved for construction costs.

As the project has moved forward, some citizens, including the Democratic nominee for the first district seat on the board Ronald Wesson, has encouraged the commissioners to take a look at moving the school to a new site.

During Monday’s meeting Wesson again stressed that he thought the school would be better built elsewhere.  He said if the county could not get financing in place to use the QSCB funds, the entire process should be revisited.

During Monday’s meeting, citizens will have the chance to speak to the board about their concerns and their feelings about the possible construction of the new school.