Bertie Commissioners debate high school project

Published 10:54 am Thursday, August 9, 2012

WINDSOR – The Bertie County Commissioners intend to make a decision on the new Bertie High School during their August 20 meeting.

During Monday’s meeting, the board discussed some alternatives of the new high school and authorized payment of some invoices related to the new school. That brought an objection from Commissioner Rick Harrell.

“I’m not going to support spending another dime until we decide exactly what we’re going to do and how much money we’re going to spend on a school,” Harrell said. “We’re out here spending money right now and never gotten to the point of voting to even build a school or borrow the money we’re talking about.

“That’s over a million dollars right now and we haven’t even voted to borrow any money for a school,” he added.

Harrell then asked when the board was going to move forward on a decision on the school.

“I think what will be on the agenda in our next meeting will be discussion of the proposed new high school as well as to move forward with it or whatever we’re going to do,” Commission Chairman L.C. Hoggard III said.

Bertie County Manager Morris Rascoe said the board needed information from Davenport about the financial implications of making changes to the school including the possibility of removing the auditorium and adding 12 classrooms and the possibility of building both. Davenport is the financial advisor hired by the commissioners to help with financing of the new high school project.

“They give us deadlines and we keep missing them,” Vice Chairman J. Wallace Perry said. “I don’t know if we’re ever going to build a school at the rate we’re going.”

Commissioner Norman M. Cherry Sr. said the discussion had been ongoing for long enough.

“We have been talking about a high school since the mid-90s,” he said. “I know we are all in agreement that we need a school, but let’s start finding ways that say we can do it versus why it is so hard to not do it.”

Hoggard also said there was discussion after the meeting among some board members and staff to add eight classrooms and still build the auditorium.

Harrell said he didn’t see how the auditorium could be kept and still add the eight classrooms without adding additional cost.

“He didn’t say it would balance out,” Perry acknowledged. “It would get our payment where it wouldn’t be much more on our tax rate.”

Harrell asked how the board knew that and Perry said Davenport had indicated that was the case.

Rascoe then offered some figures from Hite, the architectural firm hired by the county on the new high school project,  which would give total costs. He said as designed, the cost was $20.4 million. If the auditorium was removed and the 12 classrooms added, the cost is projected at $20.2 million. The third scenario which allowed for eight classrooms and the auditorium was $21.5 million.

Harrell asked for a figure to see what it would cost to build eight classrooms and still eliminate the auditorium.

“I’m still of the opinion that if you’re going to build it, build it,” Hoggard said. “Now is the best time to. If you talk about building it later, that’s not going to happen, but that’s not a decision I’ll be part of after December.

“As long as I’m here right now, if we’re going to build it, built it right and not come back later because it’s not going to happen,” he added.

Harrell said he wanted to know what build it meant and Hoggard said build  the whole school correctly, including the auditorium and the classrooms.

Hoggard then allowed District 1 Democratic Commission nominee Ronald Wesson to address the board on the issue.

Wesson said that Davenport suggested after the meeting moving the financing term from 20 to 22 years and reduce the payment.

“Their projection was that if you went with 12 classrooms and the auditorium, you’re talking about one cent compared to what they presented to you,” Wesson said.

Harrell said that would extend two years on the debt load.

Wesson said that was true.

“That’s a choice you would have to make whether you want a lower payment now and two years of additional financing,” Wesson said. “That’s a choice the board will have to make.”

Harrell said it was fiscally responsible to look at the long run as well. He also said he needed only to see the financing numbers and he was ready to vote on the issue of a new high school.

“I’m prepared to vote as soon as I see the numbers anytime y’all are ready,” Harrell said. “I don’t want you to think you are waiting on me. I’ve stated my position clearly the whole time, I just need to see the numbers.”

Joe Hoggard, a citizen from Windsor, also spoke and urged the board to build all 12 classrooms whether or not the auditorium was built. He said the school capacity numbers were based on maximum usage, which likely will not happen in actual use.

Harrell said he understood the thought and said he knew the Bertie County Board of Education had asked for 12 classrooms.

L.C. Hoggard said he knew there were difficult decisions ahead.

Despite the discussions about the future, the board did approve moving the capital project ordinance for the new high school from last year’s budget to the current budget by a unanimous vote. It also approved adding $400,000 to the line item on a 4-1 vote with Harrell against the motion.

Finance Officer William Roberson told the board the money being spent to pay Hite Associates could be recouped from the financing of the school if they moved forward, but would have to be spent regardless.