By Diana Matthews
The first phase of site demolition for the Whiteville High School classroom project was due to begin in mid-June and continue throughout the summer vacation but has been pushed back.
Demolition will include the old gym, now the band room. Classes would be able to continue on campus during the school year despite construction, however.
“That has been moved to later in the fall and early winter,” Whiteville City Schools Supt. Kenny Garland said, because of the USDA loan paperwork that remains to be done. Between now and June, design development and permitting for the demolition are underway. Surveying and soil testing have been completed.
The schematic plan was approved by the board in March and submitted to civil and electrical engineers, who made proposals for heating and air-conditioning. Garland said that the HVAC cost would be about $32 per square foot, which he called “a middle-range price.”
The board voted Thursday to approve a capital outlay proposal five-year plan, which Garland said is also a key factor in receiving favorable consideration for state grant funds. The plan itemizes expected costs of such predictable budget items as computers, vehicles, building repairs and maintenance, grounds maintenance and heating and cooling.
The plan also projects using lottery funds for roofing projects at the high school vocational building in 2021, the Central Middle School gym in 2022 and the CMS resource building in 2023. Also lottery funds may be used for a Central Services car, playground fencing, and upgrades to doors at several campuses.
Garland could not say yet how the capital funding grant money would be used, if received. In developing a budget for the building and repair projects, he had likened the process to buying a car. “You try to get a car that has all the features you need. If your money will stretch to get you some of the features on your wish list as well, that’s great, but you have to make the money cover the basic needs.”
The board is not yet at the point where they can say whether they would use that $4.5 million for wishes (additional building upgrades) or whether they may need it to cover vital needs. After the ongoing modifications are worked into the overall schematic plan, said Garland, “We’ll look at our options.”
Garland proposed Thursday evening that the city school system seek to use lottery funds and a state-funded grant toward construction and improvement projects at Whiteville High School.
The April school board meeting was shifted from its usual second Monday slot because of spring break.
Lottery funds process
NC Education Lottery funds, Garland said, may be used only for a limited range of expenses. Construction and repairs are among the permitted uses. In recent years, the system has used lottery funds to repair roofs at several schools.
The school system has a fund into which lottery money is deposited throughout the year. WCS receives about $150,000 per year; the money gathers interest until disbursed for projects. The account has an unused balance of $261,501.79 at last reporting, and some more money should be deposited shortly, Garland said. The school system goes through a formal requisition process to draw out the amount it needs for a construction project.
Before schools can apply to the state, Columbus County commissioners will need to approve the request. The board voted to allow Garland to go before the commissioners Monday, April 16, and ask that $250,000 of the available lottery funds be targeted for WHS building projects.
The school system’s agreement with the county government is that WCS will pay $333,000 of the construction costs. “If we can use lottery money for $250,000 of that,” Garland said, “it will free up our general funds to be used for other things such as activity buses.”
Capital funding grant
A “three-to-one” grant available from the state government, Garland said, is another promising funding source. The Public School Based Needs Capital Funding Grant would provide $3 for every $1 put into a qualified project by the school system, up to a stated maximum based on the system’s enrollment.
The capital funding grant is a set-aside created by the N.C. Senate; last year the program had $25 million dollars, and this year the amount will be $75 million, said the superintendent.
Garland said that the city schools are “eligible for up to $4.5 million.” The system is in a favorable position to apply now that, “we have projects getting close to shovel-ready,” he said. The schools that received the most funding from the grant in question last year were also in the design and surveying stages, or even beginning to build. WCS can apply again next year if needed.