School board and commissioners spar over new elementary school

Published 11:27 am Wednesday, December 12, 2018

WINTON – In 2019, Ahoskie Elementary School will turn 60 years old. Despite the school’s legacy and its character, there are those who hope it won’t celebrate many more birthdays in its present location.

However, a successor to the structure seems to still be a ways off.

At the December meeting of the Hertford County Commissioners, Hertford County Schools board chair David Shields requested reimbursement for some recent expenses attached to the preliminary work done for the new school.

“We’re a little bit anxious, and we want to continue with the process,” Shields stated. “In a month, it’ll be two years (since a plan was formulated to build a new school) and we still haven’t put a shovel in the ground yet.”

Shields says HCPS has received a second invoice from Raleigh-based SfL+a, architects for the new school, totaling $865,000.

“We don’t quite have that much money in our fund balance, it’s not restricted,” Shields acknowledged. “We just want to make sure when we send these bills that they’re paid and that we can continue.”

Shields said the Board of Education makes its requests for reimbursement to Hertford County Manager Loria Williams and that all capital outlay requests submitted require approval by the County Commissioners.

Williams explained allocations are made to Hertford County Schools out of the sales tax reserve fund, and for this fiscal year that amount was $1.1 million. However, any other allocations beyond that sum would then need to be approved on a project-by-project basis to be approved by the Commissioners.

“The capital reserve has approximately $1.75 million,” Williams said. “The reason I want them (school board) to come before you is because building a new school is a different territory and would extend capital outlay above and beyond what we had spent in the past.”

“What we have now,” she stated, “is that we don’t know how much the project is going to cost. So, I ask them to come before you to make certain we have money in the capital reserve fund to do what is necessary along with what they normally have, and the addition of the school construction project.”

Hertford County Board of Commissioners chairman Ronald Gatling asked the school board to produce documentation.

Shields said he had the documentation, and that some of it had been previously submitted.

“If we (Commissioners) are going to approve something, we need to see what exactly we’re approving, and not on hear-say, conversation, and proposals, but the amounts and why we need to approve them. And that’s what we don’t have before us; let’s get that information to us,” Gatling said.

Gatling reminded Shields that the county had committed $14.8 million toward the construction of the new school.

Shields admitted there were some additional expenses, such as the water supply to the new school being adequate.

“But we’ve asked SfL+a to look at the figures really hard to see if there’s any way we can stay within the budget,” Shields answered.

“We’ve done what we should do for this two-year project,” Gatling emphasized. “We’ve made every effort to put money in place to pay down the debt proceeds. The Commissioners aren’t against the new school; we’re moving forward. But we’re not going to move forward at any cost. We need to know the exact cost because this is not an open checkbook and we are not building a school at just any cost. We are fully committed to building this school.”

The chairman requested the architect appear before the Commissioners within a month.

Commissioner John Horton suggested a joint meeting of the Board of Commissioners and the school board.

“Both sides need to hear the issue, because if something is presented to them (school board), we’d certainly like to know about it,” Horton said.

Williams said the architects have presented three options, each with varying components.

“After making its choice, the project budget for the option chosen was higher by a couple hundred thousand dollars,” Williams said. “I brought that back to the Commissioners, and that’s how we created this capital project ordinance. This budget is based on the cost the architect provided, an estimation of what it would take to complete the project.”

Newly sworn Commissioner Andre Lassiter requested he and Leon Douglas be briefed in order to make sound decisions.

Shields said the school board would get the architect’s invoice back to the board.

Williams said there would also be a meeting with the Local Government Commissioner (LGC), but first they would meet with them prior to the LGC rendering a financial analysis. While the pre-meeting is vital, she emphasized, there must be a bid in hand, no estimation; and, the responsibility for that documentation rests with the architects.

“We can’t do anything until that happens,” she acknowledged. “Until we get bid in hand, the ordinance can be amended, but to create the ordinance and the capital project this gives us authority to spend money within the project, such as reimbursement. That’s why I wanted these approved on a project-by-project basis.”

Shields said there would be more capital expenses, but said the construction of the new school is too critical to have expenses such as the painting bill account for delays.

“We need a ‘tight hand’ because I don’t want to overspend the budget because I’m a taxpayer, too,” Shields noted. “I’ll get the information at your convenience and help arrange a meeting so we can know where we all need to be.”