Carroll IDA seeks school financing

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By Christopher Brooke, Reporter

HILLSVILLE — Carroll educators will try to finish up a 12-year-old facilities program with a $25 million expansion of the high school and $5.55 million renovation of the intermediate school.

Pinnacle Architects' Randy Baker and Frank Phillips briefly described the plans and presented a detailed feasibility report to the Industrial Development Authority on Monday.

School system officials asked the IDA members for their help in applying to federal agency Rural Development for a loan to pay for the work on the two schools. This follows assistance the IDA gave recently in securing a federal loan for new school buses.

In introducing the architects, School Board Chairman Reginald Gardner noted that the Carroll supervisors first approved the countywide construction program back in 1998.

The proposal now includes expanding the existing high school to house the ninth grade along with grades 10 through 12. The intermediate school will take in sixth through eighth grades, Baker explained.

The wear and tear on the mechanical systems at the high school for the last 40 years caused a need for an overhaul there, the architect explained. Those systems will be totally replaced, plus plans include an upgrade to the electrical system.

An expansion of the cafeteria will be needed, due to the influx of ninth graders, he said. The library will be converted to science labs.

A new 9,388-square-foot media center is planned. Expanded student and teacher parking, a new bus drop-off outside the ninth grade wing are also a part of the proposal.

Baker referred to a concept drawing of the renovated high school — he pointed to a new office right at the front entrance, aimed at improving school security.

The 21,200-square-foot "ninth grade academy" will go where the existing baseball field is, with a new pick-up and drop-off area behind it. A new baseball field would go near the football field on the embankment.

A 10,203-square-foot auxiliary gym and locker room would be built on the back of the school. Also, a new 12,125-square-foot automotive and horticultural building is planned.

The intermediate school would also relocate the administrative areas, Baker said. "If you enter into the Carroll County Intermediate School, you try to find the office and you've never been there, it is a task."

The new offices would go in front of the existing gym, and people would have to enter through the administrative area, he said.

The cafeteria would be changed into the media center. The existing media center on the second floor would go back to being classrooms, Baker said.

It didn't show on the plan, but architects wanted to move some school traffic around to the back of the facility.

The construction budget is preliminary and is probably high for the current economy, he said.

"We'd like to have these plans out to bid in this year — maybe in August, September — to take advantage of the bid climate of today's market," Baker said. "If we were able to that, we're probably going to look at construction costs — where we have estimated at $130 per square foot — probably somewhere in the $110- to the $120-per-square-foot range."

For the taxpayers of Carroll County, that's a deal, he added.

Average school construction costs two years ago came in between $165 and $180 per square foot, Phillips said.

Inflation's trying to go up, so architects are trying to get these plans done now, Baker said.

"That ninth grade academy is basically a school to itself," Phillips said, in answering questions from the IDA. "They'll share the sports facilities and cafeteria and kitchen, but during the day, during the scholastic period, they're kind of out there by themselves…"

The state recommends this — that ninth graders be on campus but not mixed in with older students, he added.

Woodlawn school would be closed after the sixth and seventh grades are moved to the intermediate school, Gardner said.

The original wood frame structure at Woodlawn was built in 1908. Educators see that building going back to the county, possibly as a community center.

Carroll would apply for $30 million from Rural Development, if the IDA approves the idea, Schools Finances Manager Tammy Quesenberry said. The fixed interest rate could be 4.25 percent or possibly less.

Plus, Rural Development will allow payments to be deferred for three years — which could give the economy a chance to turn around before payments come due.

Building a new high school might have cost more than $60 million, said Gardner, in response to questions from the IDA.

The high school's still in good structural condition, Baker said.

When that high school was built in the late 1960s, it was the cream of the crop, IDA member Barry Hicks recalled.

"That was the flagship of Southwest Virginia," Phillips answered. "Let me tell you this — it still can be the flagship because it's still an excellent building."

It's the mechanical systems that are bad, he added. When a house gets to be 40 years old, you've probably replaced mechanical systems a couple times.

Baker expects with revamped systems, the schools will save significantly on their utility bills.

IDA members considered a motion that would allow the county to apply for Rural Development funds, Quesenberry said. It would not obligate Carroll to go ahead with the construction effort — that will be up to the board of supervisors in the end.

Hicks read from the already typed out motion to apply for the $30 million in Rural Development loans.

The IDA members approved the motion after a second from Roger Wilson.

Something needs to be done to improve the school facilities, Hicks said.

"You've got to remember that industrial development depends on the school system," said IDA Chairman Richard Slate Sr.