Site revealed for new high school

Published 3:59 pm Friday, January 20, 2023

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

JACKSON – “We know, given the right circumstances and the right environment, they can thrive. And we are going to invest in that thriving, in their future, and our community’s future.”

Northampton Schools Superintendent Dr. Rosa Atkins is joined by Phil Matthews as they field questions from the county commissioners regarding the land needed to build a new high school. Staff Photo by Holly Taylor

Those were the words of Northampton County Schools Superintendent Dr. Rosa Atkins, speaking about the district’s commitment to students by the planned construction of a new high school.

Dr. Atkins spoke to the Northampton County Board of Commissioners at a special meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 18 to request funds to purchase land for that new school.

As previously reported by the News Herald, the county’s Board of Education, at their own meeting earlier this month, approved a contract for design services of that new high school with RATIO Architect. That contract along with total projected construction costs for the high school is expected to total $49,987,735.

That’s just a few thousand dollars under the total grant funding the district was awarded last year from the Needs-Based Public School Capital Fund (NBPSCF), a program created by the NC General Assembly to use state lottery revenues to help address critical school facility needs.

“Tonight, I’m here to request the allocation of funds to purchase a site for the building of the new Northampton High School,” Atkins explained during her presentation on Wednesday. “Since the [NBPSCF grant] award notification, staff have been exploring possible sites for the construction of the school. A total of 14 sites have been researched in or near Jackson.”

Of those 14 sites, Atkins said, seven were ultimately not available for sale and three others were deemed unsuitable for school construction. The remaining sites were further scrutinized until they finally selected a 78-acre site located past the Jackson town limits on Highway 305 North. There is no physical address for the site yet, but it is located on the right side of the highway as parcel numbers 0200008 and 0200009.

Atkins explained that the price is $25,000 per acre, which is a total cost of $1,950,000. That allocation would include $75,000 of “earnest money” to be paid as a deposit upon purchase, and the remainder of the purchase price to be paid within 180 days from the signing of the contract.

Additionally, the district is requesting an allocation of $5,000 to option the purchase of 22 adjacent acres to be used if the district is able to secure another grant for construction of a middle school.

Board Chair Charles Tyner emphasized their support of the school system, but also noted that their only options to provide the requested funds would either be to draw from the county’s fund balance or to secure a loan. He then opened the floor for questions from the rest of the county board.

Commissioner Kelvin Edwards asked about the need for 78 acres. Commissioner Ed Martin pointed out that the former Northampton County High School-East campus is just under 50 acres.

“The requirements for building a high school have changed since our last construction, requiring more acreage to building,” Atkins answered. “The recommendation from the architect, in order to construct that high school, is 78 acres.”

She added that the design includes a track, baseball/softball fields, and a football field. It does not, however, include an auditorium. But there is enough space to add one if the district is able to secure more funding for it.

Commissioner Melvetta Broadnax-Taylor asked what Dr. Atkins envisioned for the new school.

“Every young person deserves a place in a school that they can call their own, that they feel as if it’s their home, and it was built for them,” Atkins answered, adding that the school would be equipped with the technologies, services, communal spaces, and more to create a nurturing and healthy environment.

“When we were designing high schools 20, 30 years ago, we were not designing it for the social-emotional needs and the socialization needs of our students,” she continued. “We were not designing it with the technology needs we have now, nor the curriculum needs that we have now.”

She said that students would see that the district is investing in their future.

The discussion then returned to focus on more technical details about the school, including a discussion on the merits of a one-story building or a multi-story building.

Dr. Atkins explained that the design was not set in stone yet, but everyone that she had spoken to so far had a strong preference for one story.

“Typically, a multi-story building is more expensive to construct and maintain,” added Phil Matthews, who serves as Special Assistant to the Superintendent, explaining that a multi-story building would require elevators, for example, that require regular inspections and maintenance.

They also discussed the timeline for the project. The goal is to have the school ready for the beginning of the 2026-27 school year. Matthews cautioned that any postponements on getting started may also postpone the completion date.

Following the discussion, Tyner thanked Dr. Atkins for the information. The commissioners then agreed upon holding a special meeting at 6 p.m. on Monday, Jan. 30 to make a decision on the land purchase request.