Deal Maker

Published 10:22 am Tuesday, June 21, 2016

GATESVILLE – The Board of Education hosted the Board of County Commissioners here Thursday morning to discuss building a new middle school.

The total cost for the new school is $18 million, but Dr. Ben Matthews from the NC Department of Public Instruction (DPI) in Raleigh brought a proposal for the local county Board of Education to get a $6 million Qualified School Construction Bond (QSCB), a federal Act created when Congress passed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

QSCB allows schools to borrow at a nominal zero percent rate for the rehabilitation, repair and equipping of schools. In addition, QSCB funds can be used to purchase land on which a public school will be built.

The county was originally looking to seek $18 million in general obligation bonds, which have to be approved by voters, for construction of the school, but may be able to subtract the QSCB funds from that proposed amount. If so, the county would be seeking approval for $12 million in general obligation bonds from county voters.

Commissioner Henry Jordan asked Matthews if this was permissible. Matthews remarked he was unsure, but did say, “If I stay alive, you’ll get the $6 million QSCB.”

He did suggest contacting the North Carolina Local Government Commission for advice on the issue raised by Jordan.

The BOE and the Commissioners then discussed other means to lower the potential costs to taxpayers, such as getting the Department of Transportation to pick up some costs since building the new school would change the traffic flow to make it safer for motorists, or putting solar panels on the roof of the school to sell power back to the grid, or applying for grants from technology companies to stimulate growth in rural counties.

Mathews said the QSCB is the easiest thing the two boards would do.

Jordan asked about an increase in lottery funds. Gates County Board of Education Chairwoman Glendale Boone replied that it does not appear the state will raise the percent of funding the lottery currently gives to school districts.

The two boards then voted to rescind a previous vote to create a supplemental tax for the school system.

The boards then voted to hold another meeting at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, June 21, to discuss the QSCB and other matters concerning the proposed new middle school.

The issue to construct a new middle school began in earnest last year, so much to the point where a DPI official agreed with Gates County school officials that Central Middle school was way past its prime.

DPI engineers visited Central Middle, especially taking note what is now the 8th grade building (built in 1957), and recommended the school needs to be replaced.

“The DPI engineers have been very helpful in accessing the building and have stated it take would take approximately $1.5 million more to renovate than to build new,” stated Joe Harrell, Director of Maintenance for Gates County Schools at a meeting between the county’s Board of Education and Board of Commissioners last year.

Harrell added that just to replace the problematic roof on the 8th grade building and one-half of the roof on the 7th grade building (constructed in 1965) would cost $750,000.

However, the problems at the school are not only confined to a leaky roof. Harrell noted mold and mildew in the buildings; non-ADA compliant (handicap-accessible) bathrooms in the main building, and there is no heating system in the athletic changing rooms.

The 1957 and 1965 buildings also lack insulation or reinforced steel that provides lateral support in a wind-related event. Even to meet the minimum energy codes, all windows in those two buildings will need to be replaced.

Meanwhile, all of the school’s potable water lines below the slab have been abandoned due to leaks and pipe degradation; and all the sewer lines are dated to the time of original construction with no upgrades.

The two oldest buildings on campus are heated by a single steam boiler that runs off diesel oil. The original piping has failed below the slab and a retrofit system has been in place for nearly 20 years that consists of uninsulated, black steel pipe directly buried in the soil outside the perimeter of the building.

According to the estimates, it would cost $18 million to build a new middle school, or $19.6 million to renovate.