‘Santa’ arrives early

Published 8:52 am Wednesday, November 20, 2019

WINTON – We are fast approaching what is deemed to be “the most wonderful time of the year.”

That’s indeed the case for an effort to secure funding to build a new Ahoskie Elementary School.

Hertford County officials were notified this past weekend that their application for a $15 million grant from the state’s Needs-Based Public School Capital Fund was approved.

That grant, which must be accompanied by $5 million in matching funds from the county, should be enough to cover the construction of the new elementary school plus possibly build an auditorium – a project that has been previously discussed but removed from consideration due to the added costs.

The news of the grant was met with delight from Hertford County officials.

“It’s interesting that the announcement of us receiving this grant comes at this particular time of the year….we’re extremely thankful that Santa arrived early,” said David Shields, Chairman of the Hertford County Board of Education. “Building a new school is a huge tax burden on the citizens of any county, especially in a rural county such as ours. Now with a $15 million grant and we have to account for $5 million of our own dollars, this project will have a very minimal impact, if any at all, on our local taxpayers.”

Hertford County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. William Wright Jr. said he didn’t know what to expect after submitting the grant application in late September.

“It [receiving the $15 million] was a surprise, but a pleasant surprise, especially after our application from two years ago was turned down,” he noted.

“We are ecstatic over receiving these funds,” Dr. Wright continued. “What I witnessed throughout the grant application process is what every school district across our state needs to see….a collaborative effort among the local school board, the county commissioners, and the local legislators in the North Carolina General Assembly all working together towards a common goal. We had a lot of people working on this. The community is to be commended as well for their input on the need for a new school.

“I’m proud to be a part of this process. This betters the lives of our students in a new 21st century school,” Dr. Wright added.

At Monday night’s regularly scheduled meeting of the Hertford County Commissioners, board chairman Ronald Gatling expressed his satisfaction on the county gaining the $15 million grant.

“All the trips and all the lobbying we did to obtain this grant paid off,” Gatling remarked. “This is a win for our students, and a win for our board of education. This is great news all the way around. We can now move forward with this project.”

At a meeting in June 2018, the commissioners approved one of the three options for the new school – a 57,150 square-foot facility across the street from the current Ahoskie Elementary School.

The chosen option (estimated at $14.8 million) has room for 400 students (600 core) with 14 classrooms, media center, cafeteria/kitchen, a gym (with a platform stage / no bleachers) and no auditorium. Space will be left vacant to possibly add four classrooms.

The new school’s main entrance will be on First Street (NC 561), adjacent to the Town of Ahoskie Cemetery.

To help offset the cost, the commissioners and members of the county’s board of education at that time stated their intent to apply for a Needs-Based Public School Capital Fund from the state.

At a commissioners’ meeting in July of this year, a discussion between the board members, joined by Shields and Dr. Wright, centered on if the county received the state grant, could the auditorium be added back into the project.

Ted Cole, representing Davenport & Company – a financial advising firm under contract with Hertford County – said the county has close to five million dollars of school capital project money that could be used as the matching funds for the state grant. He noted using those local funds would prevent the county from having to borrow any money for the Ahoskie Elementary School project.

“It would be awesome for us to build a brand new school and have an auditorium for five million dollars,” exclaimed Gatling at the July 1 meeting. “If we get the grant then that’s less money we have to spend. Whichever way we go, the bottom line is we need to build this school.”

Shields and Dr. Wright commented on possibly adding the auditorium back to the project when speaking earlier this week about receiving the $15 million state grant.

“We’re hoping for that [auditorium],” Shields said, adding that he would prefer it built on the campus of the new Ahoskie Elementary School and not at Hertford County High School as discussed as an option at an earlier commissioners’ meeting.

“From a cost standpoint, it’s more manageable and effective to add the auditorium back to the plans at Ahoskie Elementary rather than a separate project at the high school campus,” Shields added. “If we look at putting it at the high school, then it will be at a school that’s nearly 50 years old. No, the high school isn’t at the end of its lifespan, but it’s getting close. Having the auditorium at Ahoskie Elementary would result in easy access for use by the high school and Bearfield Primary since they’re all right there together.”

“It’s better to have it attached to a new building and will coincide with the lifespan of that building,” Dr. Wright stated. “At some point, we will have to address a new middle and high school. Building the auditorium alongside the new construction that will occur at Ahoskie Elementary makes sense, but if there’s an effort to build the auditorium at the high school, if that’s the compromise we have to take to get an auditorium, we’ll take the compromise. Wherever it’s built, it will be used by our entire school system as well as being rented out for community events.”

A second round of bids are currently out on the Ahoskie Elementary School project.

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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