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Carroll opts for renovation over new construction

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By Christopher Brooke, Reporter

HILLSVILLE — Carroll County school officials hope to retool financing efforts for improvements to two facilities by seeking Rural Development’s assistance.

After it became apparent at a special meeting between the school board and the Carroll supervisors that building a new high school plus remodeling two buildings would be too expensive, educators will focus on the renovation idea.

Schools’ Superintendent Greg Smith mentioned at Tuesday’s Carroll School Board meeting his contact with Travis Jackson of Rural Development.

The federal agency has facility improvements loans available through the stimulus package, he said.

As a result of discussions with Jackson, Smith said he hopes that the school division can bring to fruition the renovations of Carroll County High and intermediate schools.

Among other improvements to both facilities, the renovation plan adds ninth grade in its own pod to the existing high school, and places grades 6-8 at the intermediate school.

Another item that Smith mentioned about the intermediate school involved changes to the school's passenger vehicle traffic pattern where parent's drop students off.

Smith did not go into detail about possibilities of financing the renovation plan through the federal government. He said school officials will present the major concepts in coming weeks. The superintendent said he is encouraged by conversations he’s having.

The Community Facilities Loan Program is part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s mission to help “develop community facilities for public use in rural areas,” according to information on the USDA Web site.

“These facilities include schools, libraries, childcare, hospitals, medical clinics, assisted-living facilities, fire and rescue stations, police stations, community centers, public buildings and transportation.”

Jackson, the area director for Rural Development based in Wytheville, told The Gazette after the meeting that the stimulus act has made for a much bigger pot of money that the federal agency can draw on for school construction.

The fund is usually limited to $3 million per project, but it’s possible that Carroll could get a big enough loan to cover its renovation efforts.

One impact of the recession is the increased competitiveness among construction firms in bidding on projects, Jackson said. The result is cost savings of 20 percent to 30 percent on construction projects.

Several school systems are making efforts to apply for the loans on the advice of Jackson, but he noted that this program will end in September.

The program is first come, first served, but he finds Carroll in good position due to planning that the school system has done.

“If that’s what the board decides to do, we have a very good chance to get this funded,” Jackson said.

Renovation has always been viable for the school construction option, Smith said after the meeting.

Although estimated at around $37 million, the project could come in at less than $30 million if construction savings of 20 percent becomes a reality.

His understanding from talking to Jackson is that Carroll could possibly receive full funding from the USDA for the renovation project. The interest rate is a little more than 4 percent.

Carroll will continue to try to qualify for Build America Bonds, which could save the county 35 percent on interest for the loan, Smith said.

After working with Carroll schools officials to secure a USDA loan for new school buses recently, Jackson suggested that they apply for stimulus funds for facilities renovation.

Smith confirmed that the school division is leaning more towards the renovation option.

“It was determined, after further scrutiny of the financials, that [ new construction] is not a financially viable option,” the superintendent said.

Renovation has a more reasonable cost and will extend the lives of school buildings for decades, he added. This will serve the needs of the students, the school system and the county very well.

“The renovation option has been one that we always considered and we always considered it a very viable option.”

Carroll must submit documentation for a facilities loan by the end of September, Smith said. He intends to present the plan in greater detail to the school board in May.

The approval of the board of supervisors would also be required.