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Grayson seeks $18.3 million for school facilities

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By Ben Bomberger, Reporter

INDEPENDENCE — After months of discussion, the Grayson County Board of Supervisors decided to seek funding above the originally approved $16.3 million for Phase I of the school system’s long-term facilities improvement plan.

Construction was nearly halted on the school system’s initial phase after contracted amounts exceeded the allowed $16.3 million approved by the supervisors. Included in that phase are additions and renovations to Fries Middle School and a new facility in western Grayson.

Supervisors remained strict in their allowance and refused to go above the $16.3 million despite requests from the school board. On Wednesday night, however, the supervisors temporarily opened their wallets.

Chairman Larry Bartlett began the discussion by pointing out the original projected amount was $12.4 million. It later rose to $15.1 million and then $16.3 million.

Now, the county has contributed $600,000 for the water system and is looking at financing $18.3 million for the initial phase.

Estimates are that it will cost upwards of $17.1 million to finish the two projects, with the additional $1 million needed to cover money the county drew from the construction fund to make interest payments on the loan.

Bartlett, who has remained adamant that he would not vote to go above $16.3 million, said constituents have told them it is “time to finish the job.”

Just as concerns surround whether a new state prison set to be completed this summer will actually be opened due to state funding constraints, citizens are urging board members to not let the new facility sit unfinished.

“I intended not to vote past $16.3 million,” Bartlett said. “But I’m being counseled otherwise by my constituents. ‘You must finish it,’ I’m being told.”

Supervisor Joe Vaughan agreed and said the board doesn’t have a choice on whether they should finish the projects.

“Either we go ahead and finish them, or operate old schools while we make payments on new schools,” Vaughan added. “It started, and now it’s got to be done.”

County Administrator Jonathan Sweet looked at the issue from a strictly business standpoint.

“What makes fiscal sense?” Sweet asked. “From that, it would be my recommendation that we enjoy the benefits from the investment the board has already made. It’s going to cost us to do that, but it’s going to cost us more to not [finish the projects].”

Though the board tentatively agreed to seek the needed additional money, the school system will not yet receive the green light to spend it.

After all, it must first be obtained, Sweet said.

He encouraged the board to spend time praying that the funds become available to Grayson.

“We’re in a financial crisis here,” Sweet said, noting that asking a bank for an additional $2 million on a short-term loan and looking for a $4 million line of credit were by no means automatic.

Not only does the county need the money, but it also needs to obtain affordable and timely terms, because contracts are pending for the school system’s projects.

For now, the board will wait until it hears from banks to see if the money will be available.

Sweet expects an update to come as soon as the board’s next regular meeting on May 13.