Inflation drives up cost for new school

Published 4:46 pm Tuesday, November 7, 2023

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JACKSON – Construction of the new centrally-located high school in Northampton County may need some additional funds, but there’s a possibility those funds may be available from the state.

At their workshop meeting on Nov. 6, the county commissioners were asked to consider authorizing the school board to apply for a chance to receive supplemental state funding. Board Attorney Scott McKellar presented the resolution to the board.

As previously reported by the News Herald, Northampton County Schools was awarded a $40 million grant from the state’s Needs-Based Public School Capital Fund (NBPSCF) in April 2022. That amount, however, would not fully cover the construction costs for the new school. In July 2022, the state also granted the district another $10 million from the same fund for the project, bringing the total to $50 million.

But because of inflation, construction costs continue to rise. That issue was discussed at a Northampton County Board of Education meeting in July earlier this year, with the project expected to go over that $50 million allocation. They anticipated then that the state legislature would allow requests for more funds.

In October, the North Carolina General Assembly passed a law that would indeed allow counties to apply for up to $12 million in supplemental funding from NBPSCF if construction has not started yet.

A site for the new school has been purchased and the designs have been made, but construction has not yet begun. As such, the school board intends to apply for $12 million in grant funding when the application period opens in January.

Allocations from NBPSCF do not require a local match.

“This resolution just authorizes them [Northampton County Board of Education] to proceed,” McKellar concluded.

Commission Board Chair Charles Tyner emphasized that the money for the school construction will be coming from the state, and not the local county taxpayers.

“The state’s been mighty good to us,” he said, and added that he believed the school board would be successful in this application as well.

Board of Education Chair Lucy Edwards, board member Barbara Stephenson, and Special Assistant to the Superintendent Phil Matthews were in attendance at Monday’s meeting to answer any questions, but the commissioners had none.

Because Monday’s meeting was a non-voting work session, the commissioners did not take any action on the resolution. But it is expected to be voted on in the consent agenda at their next meeting on Nov. 20.

The new school will be located on a 63-acre parcel of land on Highway 305 just outside of Jackson’s town limits. The commissioners agreed earlier this year to provide $1.5 million for the land’s purchase. Recently, the two boards both approved an interlocal agreement which will allow the county to recoup those funds by receiving Sales and Use Tax reimbursements for materials that will be purchased during the school’s construction.

If the school project remains on schedule, construction is expected to begin in December 2024 and conclude June 2026.