Funds approved to purchase land for new high school

Published 5:50 pm Tuesday, January 31, 2023

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JACKSON – The Northampton Commissioners approved the expenditure of over $1.5 million so that the county’s Board of Education can move forward in the process of purchasing land for a new high school.

The decision was reached during a special called commissioners’ meeting held on Jan. 30.

County Attorney Scott McKellar explained that the real estate purchase contract is between the Northampton County Board of Education and the sellers, Lawrence and Kathryn Vaughan, and Charles Vaughan. Even though the commissioners are not a party to the contract, they had to approve the expenditure of funds before the contract could be executed.

The proposed property is approximately 63 acres located just north of the Jackson town limits on Highway 305.

When Dr. Rosa Atkins, Superintendent of Northampton County Schools, first brought the request before the commissioners earlier this month, they were originally seeking to purchase 78 acres on that property. Atkins told the News Herald that, after that meeting, they consulted with the architects again to see if they could reduce the acreage needed for the high school construction. As a result, they decided 63 acres would be sufficient.

The price in the contract is listed at $25,000 per acre, totaling $1,575,000. An ‘earnest money’ deposit of $75,000 is included in that contract.

After the earnest money deposit, the Board of Education has six months to conduct surveys and studies – including an environmental assessment – to determine suitability of the site. If the land is deemed unsuitable for any reasons listed in the purchase contract, the deposit money can be recouped. If the Board decides to not proceed with the purchase for any other reasons, however, the deposit is forfeited.

If they do move forward with the land purchase, the remaining $1.5 million is expected to be paid at closing in August.

Commissioner Chair Charles Tyner stated that the money would come from the county’s Fund Balance. County Manager Julian Phillips also noted that those funds would be included in the budget for the next fiscal year, which begins on July 1.

Before the commissioners came to a decision at Monday’s meeting, they asked a number of questions to Phil Matthews, who serves as Special Assistant to the Superintendent.

Tyner as well as Commissioner Kelvin Edwards asked if the $50 million grant received from the state will be enough to fully cover what they need to construct the new high school.

“Will it give us everything we want? Maybe not, but it’ll give us what we need,” Matthews answered, emphasizing that they are very confident they’ll be able to include all the necessities for the new school with the budget they have.

Edwards also asked about the timeline for the project.

Matthews explained that the timeline was tight for the projected opening of Fall 2026. He said they had the surveys and studies already lined up to begin, but couldn’t proceed yet until this matter was decided.

“In order to keep that timeline, (having access to) the land is key,” he stated.

In his remarks, Tyner requested the Board of Education provide a short-range and long-range plan for the district’s educational facilities, noting that many citizens were curious about what would happen to the current buildings and other facilities.

Following the discussion, Commissioner Ed Martin motioned to approve the expenditure, and Commissioner Geneva Faulkner provided the second. The vote was unanimously in favor.

At the same meeting, the Board also discussed approving an additional $5,000 expenditure for the Board of Education to option 37-acres of adjoining land from the same landowners for a two-year period.

Matthews explained that the plan is to construct a new middle school on the adjoining parcel of land, if they are able to secure more grant funding from the state. He estimated there would be at least three windows of opportunity to apply in the next two years.

Edwards made the motion to approve the $5,000 expenditure, and Martin seconded. The motion passed quickly with another unanimous vote in favor.

As previously reported by the News Herald, the Northampton County school district is seeking to construct a new centrally-located high school. Last year, they were awarded just under $50 million from the state’s Needs-Based Public School Capital Fund, a program created by the NC General Assembly to use state lottery revenues to help address critical school facility needs.

Since the grant notification, the district looked at 14 sites in and near Jackson to find a suitable location for a new school. The parcel they selected, currently owned by the Vaughan family, was deemed the best place for the construction.

The Board of Education entered into a contract with RATIO Architect earlier this month to oversee the design and construction. The new high school is expected to include sports facilities such as a track, baseball/softball fields, and a football field. But funding fell short to also include an auditorium.