Carroll seeks school funding alternative

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By Christopher Brooke, Reporter

 HILLSVILLE — Educators applied last Thursday for zero-interest bonds that, if approved, might be enough to pay for expansions of two Carroll schools — but not their renovations.

Carroll County School Board continues to look into every possibility to proceed with a plan to expand the intermediate and high schools and realign the grades there, Superintendent Greg Smith explained. That includes seeking "qualified school construction bonds," $229 million worth of funding at zero percent interest coming through the governor's office.

Educators had to retool their financing plan after an expected $26.7 million in loans through Rural Development did not get approved.

Schools officials have applied for these bonds, asking for the entire amount, Smith said. Educators do not expect the entire amount of funding to be awarded, even if their bond application gets approved — the bond amounts are capped at around $15 million, the superintendent explained.

Smith expects that the bond funding would be enough to build the square footage and the classroom spaces to have grades six through eight at the intermediate school and grades nine through 12 at the high school.

"This is a positive step forward," he said about the application. "We will lobby the governor's office fairly persistently to consider our application strongly."

School officials feel cautiously optimistic the Carroll application will score well.

That amount of funding would not cover the costs of renovating the existing parts of the schools, which means the school division couldn't afford to replace the 42-year-old heating and cooling system at the high school, for example.

That prospect does cause concerns, but Smith noted educators continue to search for other funding possibilities.

Educators would also need to make sure they keep the payments reasonable, he explained. One difference for these bonds is the repayment period is 17 years, instead of 40 years, which would have been the case for the Rural Development financing.

Combined with other bonds, this funding might get the school system where it needs to go in paying for construction, Smith said. "The school board will consider every possible option."

Carroll officials will put their heads together in a special meeting Nov. 22, when representatives from the school board, the Carroll Board of Supervisors and the Industrial Development Authority will discuss the financial plan.