Educators not giving up on funding

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Carroll school officials are still holding onto hope that they can find a way to pay for renovations.

By Christopher Brooke, Reporter

HILLSVILLE — Competition has heated up for school construction bonds from the governor's office, but Carroll officials heard Nov. 22 that funding from Rural Development may still be an option.
Several local officials met with Rural Development's Travis Jackson and bond attorney Caroline Perry to share ideas about funding $26.7 million in construction at the Carroll high and intermediate schools, after the schools failed to get stimulus funding from the federal government.
Officials discussed the application for Qualified School Construction Bonds made to Gov. Bob McDonnell's office and a range of other funding options, but they haven't given up on one old idea — that Rural Development may be able to supply some money for the project.
The application to the governor's office focused on closing Woodlawn and moving grades six and seven to the intermediate — making it a true middle school. The ninth grade would get its own wing at the high school.
"Right now, we have virtually completed planning for the project," Schools Superintendent Greg Smith updated the other officials present in the board of supervisors meeting room.
"It is a shovel-ready project... We are on complete hold until financing is certainly found, so... we continue to look for whatever financing strategy that we can."
The construction bonds would meet Carroll's needs — it is up to $15 million per school project with no interest and a flexible repayment schedule over a term of 17 years.
Many thought competition for the $229 million in bonds wasn't going to be that intense, but after the application process closed state officials told educators that more than 100 projects were seeking part of that funding pool, Smith said. The total requests exceed the total the governor has to distribute.
Educators hope the award of the bonds will be made soon, before the end of the year.
But, school officials haven't stopped there.
"I can tell you we've shaken every tree possible," Smith said. "We have been having conversations with anyone who will take our calls."
School Board member Harold Golding then put a question to Travis Jackson. "Our Rural Development project is out, right? Totally?"
"No," the answer came back.
"Never give up," Golding said.
"I'm still looking at the avenues we're going to have available to us," Jackson said.
Because Congress did not adopt the federal budget yet, it's likely that Rural Development officials won't learn how much funding the agency gets until spring, he added. Jackson's office needs to find out in order to understand the process for funding the 67 outstanding projects.
The Carroll schools expansion and renovation remains one of Jackson's "top projects," he assured local officials. If Carroll can get a part of the bonds from the governor's office, so much the better.
"My plans are to continue focusing on trying to get the money you need," Jackson said. "If you find out it's less than what I'm trying for now, that just makes my job easier."
The chances of getting $27 million from Rural Development seems slim now, but Jackson still believes that some of the project's funding will come from the federal government.
He suggested Carroll might be able to get assistance from the Virginia Tobacco Commission or the Appalachian Regional Commission, or qualify for interim funding.