The repair of existing infrastructures and the need to focus on the long term facility needs of the Ashe County School System were deemed as some of the more pressing issues by county commissioners and the board of education during a joint meeting Tuesday morning.
The conversational style meeting, held at the BOE annex, focused on what projects school officials would want to see Qualified School Construction Bonds used for and an update of what facilities are in need for immediate attention. These bonds, created by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, allow schools to borrow at zero percent interest for the construction, repairing, or renovation of school buildings. Lenders of the QSCB receive a federal tax credit in lieu of receiving an interest payment.
Although these bonds would be used for the benefit of the schools, it is the county’s responsibility to repay them and county officials have indicated that this would be done through the allocated education lottery proceeds, which can only be used for school debt services.
School officials are looking to use a portion of the bonds for two school re-roofing projects (one being at Mountain View and the other the vocational wing of the high school). The county school system has already qualified for $1.2 million of QSCB funding for the addition of four new classrooms at Ashe County High School and qualified for an additional $1.8 million in the second round of bond distribution.
With the completion of these three projects, Superintendent Dr. Travis Reeves, explained that the school system would only be looking to use $2.5 million of the $3 million QSCB money it stands to receive. Although the bonds are initially sold interest free or with low interest, school systems across the state have encountered difficulty moving the bonds. Knowing this, County Manager Dan McMillan explained, the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction extended the deadline for the county to sell the bonds until Dec. 31.
County commissioners also received an update from the school system on the state of the middle school swimming pool project and when the facility would be opened to the public. The school’s pool has been closed since before the summer of 2008 due to a leak and infrastructural concerns including issues with the building’s roof, filtration system, and locker rooms.
If all goes according to plan, the pool will be placed out to bid on June 24 and bids open to the public July 15. The project was placed out to bid previously but the lowest returned bid was for $350,000, prompting another bidding session. After speaking with pool architect Larry Green, school officials are optimistic that bids for the project will now come in the neighborhood of $250,000. That is the same figure agreed upon over a year and a half ago by the county, school board, and a community fundraising committee. Each group will be responsible for footing $83,000 for the project.
“The community sees this as a real benefit for the county,” McMillan said. “They (commissioners) have expressed to me on numerous occasions that we need to get this thing done.”
School officials told commissioners that it would take approximately four to five months to complete the required renovations. The school’s new swimming pool would offer a depth range of four to seven feet, while the former facility offered swimmers and divers up to 12 feet. McMillan acknowledged the fact that the shallower version of the pool would not allow dive instruction classes, which have been held previously at the pool, but felt these services could still be obtained elsewhere locally. School officials also stated that the facility’s locker rooms have been refitted with new lockers (a dark navy blue set that came from an army base) and are currently being utilized as P.E. dressing rooms.
The final item on the agenda for the collaborative meeting was a discussion of the school system’s long-range facility needs, which includes proposed updates to county schools in terms of renovations and repairs over the next five, 10, and 12 years. These projections also include the possible construction of a new middle school at the existing site within that mentioned time frame. The projected needs for the school system adhere to certain architectural and structural recommendations and are subject to change.