Superintendent Travis Reeves stated that the school system has received approval to receive Qualified School Construction Bonds in the amount of approximately $1.2 million. These bonds are interest free for 12 years and Reeves explained that this will save Ashe County taxpayers a “significant amount of money.”
County Manager Dan McMillan said that he and Chairwoman Judy Porter Poe have signed a letter noting that they are interested in purchasing the bonds if the school system receives the money.
According to the North Carolina Office of Economic Recovery and Investment, the QSCB is a new bond program created through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act that provides money for repair, renovation and new construction. There are no prerequisites for applying, and it does not require a business match. The State Board of Education is responsible for administering the statewide allocation of bonds.
In essence, the county commissioners would sell the bonds and it would be their responsibility to repay the bonds if the school system defaults on repaying them. The school system plans to use education lottery proceeds to repay the loans and already have at their disposal $400,000.
Reeves also said that he is confident that the school system will be able repay the bonds. The four class rooms will be used to create additional space for the math and science departments. Reeves also said that the school system is interested with partnering with the Ashe Campus of Wilkes Community College to allow that campus to utilize the class rooms after school hours in the evenings.
“I think it would be a win-win situation for both the high school and the community college considering their needs so we would certainly like to extend that offer to WCC,” Reeves said.
WCC and ACS have not reached a consensus on that proposal. Reeves said that if the community college agrees to partner with the schools in repaying the bonds that it could create additional class room space for a college that is already used extensively throughout the year.
Construction on the new classrooms would begin within six months of the end of this calendar year.
In other business, the school board announced Tuesday that it was approached by Blue Ridge Electric Membership Cooperation in mid-July on the possibility of the school system utilizing the existing BREMCO building on Mt. Jefferson Road as a central office. The electric coop will soon be relocating to a new facility on Highway 163. Under the current proposal, the county school system is asking the county to purchase the BREMCO building to be used as a central office. In exchange, Ashe County Schools would relinquish the school board’s central office and annex on South Street in Jefferson to the county. Reeves explained the benefits of purchasing the property during Tuesday’s meeting.
For one, Reeves explained, the purchase of the property would allow the school system's administration offices to be housed under one roof. As of now, the system has offices located at the Jefferson central office and across town at the former West Jefferson Elementary School. The building’s storage capacity would also be beneficial to the school system, Reeves explained. It would allow the system to adopt a centralized purchasing system of toiletries and instructional materials for all five county schools. The existing facility’s security system would be an added plus for the school system as well, Reeves explained.
Board member A.B. Weaver explained that the county and school system should proceed with caution concerning the coop’s offer.
“I wish we hadn’t let the cat out of the bag just yet,” Weaver explained.
He went on to note that the school system does not have to acquire the property and should not be “over eager” in considering the coop’s offer and they “should not start talking about figures just yet.”
“It’s not like we have to have that building,” Weaver said. “If they can afford to build a new building like that they can afford to cut us some slack.
“We are about the only people for whom that property would be perfect for.”
Currently, the coop’s existing location houses 17 offices and its capacity would allow for an expansion of nine additional offices at the school system’s discretion.
County Manager Dan McMillan explained that the county commissioners would consult the county tax office about performing an appraisal of the BREMCO building before discussing the matter further.