The Transylvania Times -

Crowd Hears School Needs, Bond – Brevard NC

 

March 9, 2017



A crowd of about 50 people attended the Transylvania County Board of Education’s first community input session regarding the school system’s capital needs and a possible bond referendum at the Brevard High School Media Center Monday evening.

“We’ve done a lot of work trying to prepare for this,” said Superintendent Dr. Jeff McDaris, adding that the staff had looked at several construction possibilities and financial costs.

McDaris framed the presentation of the session in terms of “where we’ve been, where we are and where we need to be.”

McDaris said the county school system has a long history of being a state leader in education. He said the county was the first in the Western part of the state to have a 180-day school year, the first to integrate its schools and athletic teams, and the first to have a traditional high school recognized as a N.C. School of Excellence. Providing quality buildings that help enhance a student’s education is part of maintaining that tradition of educational leadership.

The majority of buildings in the school system are 40 years old or older. Davidson River School was built in 1945. T.C. Henderson was built in 1956. The main building at Brevard High was built in 1959. Parts of Rosman High/Middle School were built in 1949, with other additions being made in 1956 and 1973.

The plant operations and transportation building adjacent to Brevard High was built in 1969. Brevard Elementary, Brevard Middle and Rosman Elementary were all built in 1974.

The newest school, Pisgah Forest Elementary, was built in 1991. More recent additions have been made to many of the schools, but they do not constitute the core structures of the schools.

The Morris Education Center, which McDaris called the “least important of the nine buildings,” was built in 1949.

McDaris said that some of the machinery in the buildings is so old it’s difficult to find replacement parts. The custodial staff and maintenance personnel have worked diligently to keep the schools in good shape, but “over time things have worn out.”

He also said these schools were constructed at a time when teaching was different, when there might be 30-35 students in a classroom.

Today, class sizes are much smaller while the need for specialized instruction and the use of technology has increased.

Due to the school system’s aging infrastructure, the school board hired Clark/Nexsen to assess the school system’s capital needs. In the fall of 2015, Clark/Nexsen presented their 2015 Master Facilities Study, which identified $118 million in facility needs.

The two major expenditures would be at Brevard High and Rosman High/Middle. The consultants said then the cost to renovate Brevard High School would be close to the cost of building a new school.

McDaris said the administrative staff, by estimating lower contingency costs and a faster timeline to finish the work, has revised the cost down to $93.5 million.

According to the N.C. Department of Public Instruction, from 2009 to 2014, school construction costs increased 60 percent with an equivalent increase of $75 per square foot.

He warned that school construction costs have increased in the past few years as the economy has rebounded and “contractors are finding a lot of work.” That trend is expected to continue through the next five years.

The breakdown of estimated expenses for each school is as follows: Brevard Elementary – $5.3 million, Brevard High – $41.7 million, Brevard Middle – $3.4 million, Davidson River – $677,000, Pisgah Forest Elementary – $5.6 million, Rosman Elementary – $8.7 million, Rosman Middle/High – $25.3 million, T.C. Henderson Elementary – $1.2 million, Morris Education Center – $1 million, plant operations – $376,000.

The construction would be done in three phases. The first would cost about $47 million, with the second phase costing $19 million and the third phase costing $27 million.

McDaris said after receiving feedback from the public at Monday night’s meeting and the one scheduled for March 20 at Rosman Elementary School, the administration would then begin working on a more detailed master plan. School board members and county commissioners would then meet to review and finalize a master plan. Afterwards, public information meetings would be held and the financing process and detailed designs would be completed. If a bond referendum were to be held, it would be in 2018.

McDaris added that the state approved a bond last year, but pubic schools were not included and he does not see another statewide bond that would include money for public schools “to happen anytime soon.”

Questions And Answers

Claudia Hawkins asked about the decision to renovate Brevard High instead of building a new school.

McDaris said to build a new school would require purchasing about 80 acres of land. Besides adding greatly to the cost of the project, he said the only available 80 acres he could find was in the floodplain.

Norris Barger, director of business services for the school system, said it is less expensive to tear down parts of a school and then rebuild and renovate at a current site than it is to purchase a new site and build a new school.

Barger said the current plan for Brevard High School is to keep the newer gymnasium, the science wing and the CTE classes with some renovations but to tear down the section that was built nearly 60 years ago.

“We would take down the rest of it and build three stories back up,” said Barger.

Under that plan, approximately 75 percent of Brevard High School would be a new structure.

John Hogan, a teacher at Brevard High, asked how classes would be accommodated during the construction.

McDaris said they have looked at using temporary mobile units, but they are “extremely expensive.”

He said they would have to utilize every space available and employ creative scheduling to optimize the use of every classroom.

Norm Bossert asked what individuals could do to help sell the plan. He said that when he taught school in Henderson County years ago, the teachers assumed a bond referendum would pass and they did not work actively to support it. That bond failed.

Board Vice Chair Ron Kiviniemi said that when the time comes they would establish a steering committee, which would include a diverse group of people “to work on community support.”

Kiviniemi said a limited obligation bond, which would not require voter approval, could be used to pay for the first phase. He said that would allow construction to begin quicker and reduce the “sticker shock” on a general liability bond.

McDaris said limited obligation bonds have been used in Henderson County to pay for its new schools. Those bonds are usually smaller than general bonds and the county puts up collateral.

When asked what the student population will be in 10 years, Kiviniemi said the student population is currently 3,400. A study by N.C. State that the school board commissioned estimates that by 2020 the school system would lose about 200 students and then level out at 3,000 students by 2025.

But Kiviniemi added that study does not include the possibility of some economic development that would draw more families and students into the community.

McDaris said that with Asheville and the Mills River areas developing rapidly, growth is moving this way and that families may decide to live here and work elsewhere.

“We need to be ready for that,” said McDaris.

But McDaris and others said the new buildings are needed to meet today’s student enrollment.

“We’re out of space for some areas now,” said McDaris.

Tonya Treadway, the principal at Pisgah Forest Elementary School, said they are at capacity and cannot accommodate any more students.

State legislation to reduce the number of students in kindergarten through third grade could also force the school system to construct additional classrooms.

One woman asked if the N.C. State study took into account a climate in which other schools are now challenging public schools for students.

McDaris said traditional public schools in North Carolina provide the best education.

“I still believe that we offer the best opportunity,” said McDaris. “I just think we offer the best product and we’re going to win out.”

Another parent said that those parents who choose other local options have just moved in from Charlotte or Raleigh and never gave the public schools a chance.

When asked if the school board could hire local contractors as a selling point for the bond, both McDaris and Barger said the school board would hire a general contractor who then hires subcontractors. In the past some of those subcontractors have been local.

Barger said that due to state law the school board cannot force the general contractor to use local businesses but they can “encourage” the contractor to use local businesses and encourage local businesses to apply for the jobs.

When asked about the decision to do the work in phases, Barger said the “construction climate wouldn’t handle” doing all the work in one phase.

Board member Betty Scruggs said “there is no fluff” in the facilities plan and that she believes the bond will pass, just as the last one passed.

School board members and staff thanked those in attendance and encouraged them to continue providing feedback.

“We’re here to serve and most important to serve the kids of this county,” said board member Marty Griffin.

“Our goal, desire and dream is to make it (the school system) better,” said Board Chair Tawny McCoy.

 
 

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