$15M will pay for scaled-down school project

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Interest-free money from the state will cover much, but not all, of Carroll's Phase III construction plans.

By Brian Funk, Editor and Christopher Brooke, Reporter

HILLSVILLE — “Go forth and bid,” said Carroll Supervisors’ Chairman Tom Littrell on March 28, to school board members anxious to take advantage of $15 million in construction bonds.
Educators don’t know how much of the construction projects at Carroll County high and intermediate schools the $15 million will cover, but they feel confident that amount won’t pay for all the elements needed at the two facilities.
Until they get bids, they won’t know the exact costs to add the ninth grade to the high school and turn the intermediate into a true middle school for grades sixth through eight.
However, it looks like it will be enough to allow the closure of the aging Woodlawn School.
Littrell’s comments came after a motion by Supervisor David Hutchins to allow the school board to take that action.
The bonds were approved near the end of a school budget presentation and workshop last Monday night.
Hutchins’ motion, which stressed the acceptance of the treasury bonds not to exceed $15 million, met with the unanimous approval of the supervisors.
Carroll received the maximum from the bonds. Smith said that the allocation will be split into $6.7 million for the intermediate school and $8.3 million for the high school.
At the high school, the base bid includes the work to build the new wing to house ninth graders, a new administrative and media wing and a new baseball field to replace the one where the 9th grade wing will go. Smith said those costs will require about $8.1 million of the bond funding.
That could leave critical items for improvement at the high school — including the auxiliary gym, the auto mechanics/horticulture building and the replacement HVAC system — unfunded for now.
Including the base bids and all the alternates, the cost of the project is estimated at $25.5 million, Smith said in response to a question from Hutchins.
“That’s a lot of debt load to take on," Hutchins said.  "I'm not sure how we’d pay for that without an increase in revenue."
“So $15 million would cover the ninth grade wing at CCHS?” Supervisor Wes Hurst asked.
“Yes, but there are some major components not included in the $15 million, like the auxiliary gym, the cafeteria expansion and the HVAC system,” Smith answered. “Some of these major projects can’t be included. That’s my worry, going forward.
“At the minimum, $15 million does enough to allow the closing of Woodlawn."
The funding for the intermediate school has more revenue that could go toward alternates, the superintendent said.
“How many times is someone going to offer us $15 million, interest-free?” noted Supervisor Sam Dickson. “We almost have to take it. People would look at us most severely if we gave it back."
“This board has taken a great interest in infrastructure in the county and pushing that forward... Schools are a part of that infrastructure,” Hurst said.  "We are trying to put together a better package to make a better standard of living."
“I applaud the effort of the school board for being prepared for this, h Littrell said, after the supervisors approved the motion.  "The timeline [for getting the project out to bid] is so short. It could only have worked if you had these projects ready to go.
“I just have four words for you: Go forth and bid."
Educators work every day to further the Phase III construction project, Smith told The Gazette after the meeting. They remain hopeful that the $15 million will help the school board reach the main goals of this project, by adding the square footage to these two schools to handle the student population change after the closing of Woodlawn.
Rural Development’s Travis Jackson, at a previous meeting, said that the federal agency may be able to commit about $2 million for the phase III projects, despite the federal budget impasse.
Educators certainly want to keep that prospect open, Smith said. “That’s one way we could see more components of this project come to fruition.”
Otherwise, educators wonder how they will fit 350 more students into the gym at the high school — it’s already used every period of the school day, he noted. And, they wonder how many more lunch periods will have to be added to feed the new students there.
And one of the concerns of putting the HVAC replacement off until later is that it impacts other systems, Smith added. There are no salvageable pieces to the HVAC system, much of which resides above the ceilings of the classrooms.
The question is whether to take down the 40-year-old lights and ceiling to allow for the HVAC ducts replacement and then put those old fixtures back up again, Smith said. Or, would it make more sense to put up new energy-efficient lighting at the same time?

The Carroll supervisors have scheduled a public hearing on the $15 million bond issue for April 25 at 7:15 p.m. in the second floor meeting room at the Carroll County Governmental Center.