Northampton School Board approves land purchase contract

Published 4:46 pm Tuesday, February 7, 2023

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JACKSON – After crossing the hurdles of selecting a location and securing funding from the county commissioners, the Northampton County Board of Education recently approved entering into a land purchase contract.

The parcels included in the contract are intended to be the site for a new, centrally-located high school.

The decision was made during a special virtual Board of Education meeting on Feb. 6. Northampton County Schools Superintendent Dr. Rosa Atkins gave a brief overview of the contract to the school board before the vote.

“During the Northampton County Commissioners meeting on Monday, Jan. 30, the commissioners approved funding the purchase of the land for the planned new high school, and the option to purchase land for a potential new middle school,” she explained.

The site is located just north of the Jackson town limits and is east of Highway 305, listed under parcel number 0200008 and 0200009. The sellers are members of the Vaughan family: Lawrence and Kathryn Vaughan, and Charles Vaughan.

The contract notes a purchase price of $25,000 per acre, bringing the total cost to $1,575,000 for the 63 acres needed for the school construction project. A portion of that total will be used as an “earnest money” deposit of $75,000 required in the contract, and then they will have 180 days to perform site evaluations.

“During that 180 days, we will evaluate the site for the appropriateness of building that new high school,” Atkins continued.

The remainder of the purchase price is to be paid at closing, which will not be before August 1, 2023.

A separate contract to option an additional 37 acres of adjoining land was also under consideration by the school board. The cost of the option is $5,000. The option agreement is good for two years and at the same price per acre.

That 37-acre parcel is intended to be the site of a new middle school, if future state funding is secured.

As previously reported by the News Herald, Northampton County Schools was awarded $50 million last year from the Needs-Based Public School Capital Fund. That program, created by the state legislature, uses state lottery revenues to help address critical school facility needs.

During the Feb. 6 meeting, board member Dr. Marjorie Edwards motioned to approve the contract and Lucy Edwards provided the second. But some board members had questions before the vote was taken.

“Have we ever thought about doing a public forum, public hearing on this matter,” asked board member Tony Burnette. “I know we do have some citizens that really want us to take a look at this, in reference to the $1.5 million for that land.”

Board Chair Rhonda Taylor noted that the possibility of constructing a new high school has been discussed multiple times for over a decade.

“The conversation has been had several times. This is not new,” she pointed out.

Taylor also noted that the request for funds [for the land purchase] was presented to the county commissioners twice last month, and the public had the opportunity to speak at those meetings.

In the past, Taylor continued, the county has been asked to provide more funding for the potential high school construction project with a smaller grant amount, such as the $15 million grant they received in 2019 that required a $5 million match from the county. That proposal never moved forward.

“I just think this is the best we’re ever going to have,” she concluded.

Burnette continued sharing his concerns, explaining that he thought the tax assessment on the land was below the purchase price of $25,000 per acre.

“That’s what gives me pause. I just wanted to bring that to the board’s attention,” he said. “It is way overvalued.”

Dr. Atkins stated there had been another offer on the table for the Vaughan family to consider which was a higher price per acre than the school district offered.

L. Edwards asked Dr. Atkins to explain again the reasoning behind the selection of this particular site, adding rhetorically, “If we’re going to build a high school – a centrally-located high school – where else are we going to find the land?”

Atkins said they looked at approximately 14 different sites in and around Jackson. Some sites were rejected because the land owners decided not to sell, and others were rejected because of unsuitable topography features. After analyzing the suitability of each site, they selected the Vaughan property as the best place.

Following the discussion, Taylor called for a vote to approve the land purchase contract along with the additional purchase option.

The vote passed 5-1, with Burnette casting the dissenting vote. Board member Theresa Scott was unable to attend the meeting.

As previously reported by the News Herald, the Northampton Commissioners approved the expenditure of funds for the land purchase at a special meeting on Jan. 30. Those funds will come from the county’s General Fund, and will be budgeted for the next fiscal year which begins on July 1.

When appearing before the commissioners last month, Dr. Atkins explained the vision behind the new school construction, saying, “We know, given the right circumstances and the right environment, they (students) can thrive. And we are going to invest in that thriving, in their future, and our community’s future.”

The design for the new high school is being handled by RATIO Architect, and is expected to also include sports facilities such as a track, baseball/softball fields, and a football field. The plan is to be ready to open for the beginning of the 2026-27 school year.

The current high school is located on the western side of the county in Gaston.