School construction options focus on adding seats

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What costs $149.7 million?

That would be the bill for making all the facility updates and improvements consultants say Person County Schools need to be able to meet state classroom size requirements, provide safe and secure buildings and upgrade infrastructure at facilities that are, in some cases, nearly 50 years old.

Asking for that amount of money was among four options the Person County Board of Education reviewed Tuesday night as they begin to build their case for improvements to the county’s school buildings.

But school board members say they know that kind of money isn’t available from the county’s coffers and so they also reviewed a trio of other options that are significantly less costly. Still, the price tag on those three options range from $34.4 million to $42.5 million.

The most expensive option includes construction of a new high school and two new elementary schools. The price tag for those schools would be just a shade over $124 million. That plan would also include another $20.8 million in safety, mechanical and ADA projects across all the existing schools in the county. Another $4.8 million would pay to renovated Northern Middle School for use as an elementary school.

Person County Schools Superintendent Dr. Rodney Peterson said that, while he understands that the county can’t afford all those projects, he thinks it is important that county commissioners see those numbers. “They need to know what our needs really are,” Peterson said.

Peterson also said that, no matter which option the school board ultimately presents to county commissioners, the county board has a difficult task. “I don’t envy them. We are just one group asking for money. They’ve got big requests coming in from several different departments, not just ours. And they have limited resources too,” Peterson said.

School board members agreed to share those numbers with county commissioners, not so much as a request for funding, but as information to the county commissioners to consider.

Other options fall closer to the $35 million price tag commissioners have said they are more likely to consider. School board members opted not to present one of those options to the county because it does not meet the school system’s need to create more seats at the elementary school level.

That option, would fund the school system’s safety, accessibility and mechanical needs at existing schools and would cost about $35.3 million. But it does not create any additional seating to allow the county to meet state class size regulations that go into effect with the 2021-22 school year. The county’s elementary schools would remain at about 98 percent.

The other two options would reduce the percentage of occupied elementary school seats to about 86 percent countywide. One of those options calls for the construction of a new 600-student elementary school at a cost of about $28.3 million. Additional safety and ADA compliance projects would push the cost of that option to $34.4 million. The final option would cost the county about $42.5 million. That would include a new 600-student elementary school and expansions at both Stories Creek Elementary and Oak Lane Elementary. Those expansion project would cost about $8 million. That option would also include $6.1 million in safety and ADA compliance projects.

School board members directed Peterson to take all the options except the $35.3 million plan to the school system’s debt consultants to flesh out the numbers and prepare cost projections for the county commissioners to use as they work with their own consultants and the Local Government Commission to determine how much debt the county can afford to take on.

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