Gates secures $2.5 million for school construction

Published 9:51 am Tuesday, November 7, 2017

For one local school system it was the thrill of victory, but for another it was the agony of defeat.

On Monday, the North Carolina Department of Instruction officially announced the recipients of the initial round of funding from the Needs-Based Public School Capital Fund. Of the $30 million available statewide, Gates County Public Schools received $2.5 million that they will use to aid in an effort to perform long-overdue upgrades to Central Middle School. Those upgrades include $8 million that the Gates County Commissioners have agreed to borrow for the project.

Meanwhile, Northampton County’s long-term efforts to build a centrally located high school hit another proverbial bump in the road. Last month, the Northampton Commissioners approved a plan submitted by Schools Superintendent Dr. Monica Smith Woofter to seek $15 million in Needs-Based Public School Capital Funds to help build that new school near Jackson. However, Northampton’s application failed to gain state approval.

“The superintendent [Smith Woofter] let me know this morning [Monday] that our application for the school capital fund grant was not approved,” Northampton County Manager Kim Turner told the Board of Commissioners at their regularly scheduled meeting yesterday morning.

“They [the state] had received [applications] totaaling in excess of $230 million dollars submitted from 19 counties,” Turner added. “Their explanation was they had more counties that were critical in immediate needs and they recommended that we submit next year.”

Over in Gates County, Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Barry Williams was elated that the Central Middle School project application was approved. He expressed his gratitude to the Gates County Board of Commissioners for granting his request last month to move forward with submitting an application in the amount of $2.5 million.

“I am very excited for Gates County Schools to have been chosen as the recipient of this grant from the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction. The efforts made to complete the grant application and gain approval were well worth the time invested,” Dr. Williams said.

According to the grant application, the Needs-Based Public School Capital Fund was established by S.L. 2017-57, Sec. 5.3. The purpose of the Fund is to assist lower wealth counties (development tier one and tier two counties) with their critical public school building capital needs. Grant funds must be used for new capital projects only, and cannot be used for real property acquisition or for operational lease agreements, unless the lease agreement was entered into on or before June 30, 2017.

There is only $30 million available this year across the state in the Needs-Based Public Schools Capital Fund. That figure is slated to increase to $75 million next year.

Gates County Manager Natalie Rountree confirmed that the money coming from the Needs-Based Public School Capital Fund is considered “new funding for the project”.

“This is in addition to the $8 million we’ve already approved for the Central Middle School project,” Rountree said, in referencing a decision made earlier this year by the Board of Commissioners.

She noted that the $8 million has not yet been borrowed from a financial institution, as that plan awaits approval of the Local Government Commission (LGC). As noted at last week’s regularly scheduled meeting of the Gates County Commissioners, it may be February of 2018 before the county can present its request before the LGC.

Gates County Public Schools is one of other school districts that were awarded the grant that is earmarked for new capital projects defined as new facility construction. One year ago, funding for a new middle school was on a referendum that failed to pass. However the issues plaguing Central Middle School did not go away and the search for funding continued.

“Applying for this grant is an example of how dedicated we are to making sure we fully meet the needs of our students. The Gates County Board of Education and County Commissioners are committed to ensuring our students are provided a safe, healthy and well-maintained school where quality instruction can be delivered and all students can be successful. This grant program will help our community meet the critical needs of our school facilities,” Dr. Williams stressed.

One downside to receiving money from the Needs-Based Public Schools Capital Fund is that the county will not be eligible to receive its annual allotment from the North Carolina Education Lottery for a period of five years.

“That (lottery proceeds) varies in dollar amount from year-to-year,” Rountree noted, adding that this year’s payment to the county is $111,000. “We budget that money annually to cover the debt payments on the last school construction project.”

To offset the loss of lottery revenue, Rountree said the Gates County Board of Education has agreed to forego the extra $100,000 they receive annually from the county for Capital Outlay projects.

“We typically budget $200,000 annually to the schools for Capital Outlay; that was increased to $300,000 this year,” she said. “That extra $100,000 comes from the additional $600,000 we are now receiving from the state who has devised a new formula for the distribution of state sales tax. We planned to set aside the other $500,000 of that new money to make the debt service payments for the Central Middle School project.”

(Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald Staff Writer Holly Taylor contributed to this story.)

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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