The Transylvania County Board of Education and Superintendent Jeff McDaris expressed sadness and frustration yet again at the consistent delays on the $68 million construction bond project and the state of apparent disrepair at the schools that could be potentially repaired if it moved forward.
During his superintendent’s update at Monday’s meeting, McDaris said capital is needed for school repairs and modifications – repairs that he said should be done on a routine basis at all nine schools in the county as well as the bus garage.
McDaris said repairs should include pavement upgrades at Pisgah Forest Elementary, ditch cleaning for the Rosman High School football field and cooling unit repairs and fire alarm replacements at all schools.
McDaris also noted the amount of work orders submitted for capital repairs since July 2021 included 1,311 completed work orders. Safe Schools Director Alan Justice noted these work orders were submitted and completed by a maintenance staff of four to five people for all county schools.
County Commissioner Larry Chapman asked at his body’s regular meeting Monday night why out of nine schools only Brevard High, Rosman High and Rosman Middle were scheduled to receive the bond money voters approved for repairs. McDaris said during the BOE’s meeting that those are the schools identified as having “the most immediate and greatest needs.”
Before the bond was voted on in 2018, a facilities analysis and conceptual budgeting study was done by architectural firm Clark-Nexxen to assess the needs of all schools.
While Brevard Elementary was projected to need around $4.8 million in repairs, the projections for BHS and RHS/RMS were $42,650,901 and $25,349,099, respectively.
The highest other projection was Rosman Elementary at $8,798,013.
McDaris said the cost of repair requests are “really 2017 going into 2018 numbers ... there’s been tremendous escalation ... however, the work needed to be done hasn’t gone anywhere.”
“Costs are going to continue to rise,” McDaris said, adding that the county economy affects students.
“Economic conditions, development, its outcomes, the cost of living here, the types and availability of higher paying jobs, infrastructure, and housing is adversely affecting the attraction and retention of young families,” he said.
“While we argue, this county falls farther behind,” he said. “Our schools have growing needs that are getting worse. They need significant upgrades I’m to the point where ... I want to do something, we don’t do anything, I want to do something.”
Board of Education member Marty Griffin said: “My grandkids are in the schools. I have two daughters teaching in the schools. Everybody in this room probably has an invested part in our schools and we’re sitting here not taking care of our kids. That’s how I look at it.”
Board Vice Chair Ron Kiviniemi said that “the public spoke when they voted on the bond issue” – pointing to a 60% majority who voted in favor of the school bond issue.
He related that to growing frustration at the “disconnect” that the Board of Education seemingly has with several of the county commissioners.
“I was particularly appalled at the last meeting during Commissioner comments when one of (them) said, ‘Well we’re not responsible for the maintaining we’re just responsible for the funding.’ Let me point out that there is a direct connect and correlation between funding and maintaining.”
After an hour of closed-session discussion Monday, the Transylvania County Board of Commissioners voted 3-2 to approve architect contracts to move forward with the construction plans as presented by the Board of Education using the remaining bond budget “and not one penny more” said Commissioner Jake Dalton.
The caveat was that the approval is conditional upon mutual agreement with the School Board to modify the existing Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) as contemplated by the county commissioners. Commissioners Teressa McCall and Larry Chapman voted against the motion.
Before the vote, Chapman read the bond that was voted on in 2018, stating as he read “that bond is for the improvement of our schools” with nine schools under the county’s purview but six schools are “receiving nothing out of this.”
Chapman also questioned the proposed improvements to the two campuses, particularly Brevard High School.
“At Brevard High School we’re gonna get a pretty new administration building or wing,” he said. “I assume that may help somebody. I don’t know that it’s going to help the kids any, gonna get a new cafeteria, well that may be needed. I don’t know if we need to tear it down and do that, and then the old gym ...”
Chapman recommended, though made no official motion, pausing the bond and emphasized he is not proposing to stop it altogether.
He also raised concerns of officially starting the project within the current economic environment, saying costs could go up.
Commissioner McCall pushed back on accusations the Commissioners’ actions have delayed the project.
“In reality, delays have occurred as a result of the failure to provide necessary documentation and the failure to answer questions in a timely manner,” she said.
McCall said the bond project has been reduced in scope three times and that if Option 1 goes to bid “it is almost certain to come in overbid” – which would require additional reductions in scope; “yet, this doesn’t seem to be causing any concerns at all.”
McCall said she would not vote to move the bond forward at this time because doing so would be “a financial mistake” and would tie the commissioners up and prevent them from addressing critical needs for the county.
She added that there should not be a problem with waiting longer to move the bond forward, especially in regards to seeing if construction costs are more affordable.
“Why not wait a few months?” she said. “We’ve waited over three years, why not wait a few months?”
David Guice, one of the three commissioners who supported moving the bond forward, said supporting education is critical and something his board has done in the support of school resource officers and nurses, but that does not address the infrastructure needs of the schools.
“We as county commissioners are responsible for maintaining those buildings and for taking care of the capital needs of our schools, so we take very seriously this idea that we need to look at all of this closely,” he said.
“I believe that we need to do more than we’re doing ... that’s not being disrespectful to any of (the commissioners), it’s just, quite honestly, I believe that,” Guice said, adding he is proud of the fact Transylvania County has one of the lowest tax rates in North Carolina but that does not mean the schools’ needs should be ignored on the basis of budget numbers.
“What we’re not proud of is that we’ve got roofs leaking at our schools, we’ve got buildings that are deteriorating, we’ve got buildings with some mold and we’ve got buildings with other issues that we’re responsible for and we’ve got to find a way to address,” he said.
Guice added nothing will be done by pointing the finger or being bogged down in accusations and a lack of communication.
After the meeting was over, Board of Education member Courtney Domokur declined to specifically comment on the commissioners’ meeting, but stated that whatever happens must be done quickly and decisively. “We have been given some direction and now we need to decide how we will proceed,” she said.