Northampton awarded $40 million

Published 6:53 pm Tuesday, May 3, 2022

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JACKSON – District officials with Northampton County Schools are still waiting for all the pieces to fall in place to construct a new centrally-located school.

North Carolina’s Department of Public Instruction (NCDPI) announced on May 3 nearly $400 million in grants will be distributed to school districts across the state. Northampton County Schools is slated to received just under $40 million of those funds.

But that amount still isn’t enough to completely cover the costs of construction.

Northampton Interim Superintendent Dr. Del Burns told the News Herald on Tuesday that the district applied in March for $50 million (the application’s maximum amount for high school construction) and an additional $25 million (an amount lower than the application’s maximum of $40 million allowed for middle school construction).

That $75 million total was expected to cover the costs of building a centrally-located combined school to house grades 6-12.

“The middle school application was not approved,” Burns explained. “The high school application for a [grades] 9-12 school was approved, and the award amount was less than the $50 million the application allowed. That is not enough to build a 9-12 high school.”

According to a press release from NCDPI, Northampton County Schools was awarded $39,992,730 for high school construction.

Northampton Board of Education Chair Rhonda Taylor said they were happy to receive the funding from the state, but that amount is still about $10 million short even for just a high school.

“We are actively looking at other options, and prayerfully, things will work out. Because we need a high-tech centrally-located high school,” she explained.

Both Taylor and Dr. Burns said NCDPI indicated there could be another round of funding available this summer.

“We could apply for additional funds, potentially to be used either to get the high school amount up to where it can be sufficient to build a facility, and/or to fund the middle school,” Burns stated. “Right now, we’re in a ‘wait and see’ pattern. We’re gathering information and reviewing all the options.”

In February when Dr. Burns first presented the application proposal to the county’s Board of Education, he noted that school construction costs have been rising more and more each year. But he also emphasized that “a new technologically advanced, state-of-the-art facility would be a benefit to Northampton County students and also the community.”

The Needs-Based Public School Capital Fund is a program which was created by the NC General Assembly in 2017 from state lottery revenues to help address critical school facility needs. When the new state budget was passed late last year, significant changes were made to the program, which increased the fund total to $395 million for this year’s distribution.

Among those changes, the maximum award amounts were increased to $30 million for elementary school construction, $40 million for middle schools, and $50 million for high schools. The previously-required local government match was also dropped in districts – including Northampton – with an adjusted market value of taxable real property totaling less than $2 billion.

In the data released by NCDPI, no district received the maximum funding amount allowed in the application. Of the districts selected, Washington County Schools received the largest amount (a full $40 million) to construct a new PK-12 school.

Districts in 28 counties, covering each of the state’s eight education regions, were selected for grant awards. According to NCDPI, the money will be used for 42 individual projects including new school construction, building improvements (such as roofing repairs), renovations, and classroom additions.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Catherine Truitt said in a press release, “Just as all students in North Carolina need an excellent teacher in every classroom, students and teachers need high quality schools in good repair that help support learning. These needs-based grants are an important boost for many districts and communities – and most importantly, their students.”

Locally, Gates County Schools was also selected to receive $1,782,000 for a renovation project at Gatesville Elementary School.

“Gates County Schools is very appreciative of being awarded an NBPSCF grant for Gatesville Elementary School and look forward to beginning the renovation process,” said Superintendent Dr. Barry Williams in the press release. “This grant will provide many needed improvements to the school at no expense to our citizens of the county. We look forward to submitting further applications for grant funding in the near future.”