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NEW DETAILS: Building grants to local schools total nearly $15 million

Revised on: 10.12.2018 at 12:04 p.m.

Posted on: 10.8.2018 at 08:59 p.m.

By Diana Matthews

dianamatthews@nrcolumbus.com

Both local school systems will have millions of dollars in additional construction money, thanks to a Needs Based Public School Facilities Grant from the N.C. Department of Public Instruction.

State Superintendent Mark Johnson announced Monday evening that the Columbus County School system has been awarded $10.6 million to use toward the $19.1 million PreK-8 school planned for Cerro Gordo. Whiteville City Schools will receive $4.3 million toward the $18 million rebuild of Whiteville High School, Johnson said. 

Statewide, 13 school systems shared a total of $141 million this year. The funds are marked specifically for construction of school buildings in economically distressed areas. 

Superintendents respond

Rendering of new Whiteville High School media center.

“We are extremely grateful,” said Columbus County Schools Interim Superintendent Jonathan Williams. “We’re excited about the potential things this grant will enable us to do.”

At its Sept. 10 meeting, the county board of education received proposed drawings for two K-8 schools it has committed to build in Cerro Gordo and Tabor City. The projects are predicted to cost a combined total of $38 million. Bidding could begin in April, with the construction phase starting as early as late May, architect David Clinton of Szostak Design predicted.

“With the money we (already) have to plan new construction, things were tight,” Williams said. The schools will continue to make frugal decisions so that “this money is going to go a long way,” he said, and “will enable us to do things we want to do.”

Phone calls last week from Raleigh gave the local superintendents a strong hint that their systems were among the chosen ones to receive the windfall. Before making the final award announcements, officials called both Williams and Garland to ask if Hurricane Florence had caused them to rethink their construction priorities. Williams told the state, “We are still on go.” Since that conversation, Williams said he had been keeping his fingers crossed for the final announcement. When the official message came through, he said, he was “elated.”

Whiteville City Schools Superintendent Kenny Garland told the DPI caller last week that, “Hurricane Florence has only strengthened our determination” to upgrade the city school facilities.

Garland broke the news to principals and other WCS staff attending the Whiteville Board of Education’s Monday night meeting only about an hour after receiving his confirmation call from Johnson. Of the 13 systems obtaining grant money, Garland said, Whiteville City Schools is the only city system.

Rendering of new Whiteville High School cafeteria.

The money will come in three annual payments. The city schools’ share will be about $1.3 million, Garland said. During those years, the system will forgo their usual share of education lottery proceeds, which would be about $150,000 a year. The county schools received $395,246 in lottery proceeds during the last budget year, according to DPI. Both Garland and Williams said that it was an easy trade-off to accept.

Grants will not cover all construction needs

Garland’s announcement came at the end of a presentation by architect Paul Boney and two of his associates at the LS3P firm, in which they outlined details and costs of the Whiteville High School construction project that is soon to be advertised for bidding.

Garland commented that $4.3 million will make a “significant impact” on WHS construction but would not cover the cost of the $17-18 million dollar project. 

“We have needs at the other schools,” he said, and he hoped voters would approve the quarter-cent sales tax increase on the Nov. 6 ballot for capital improvements. 

Rendering of proposed Whiteville School media center.

“The monies from this grant will enable the Whiteville City Schools Board of Education to take the necessary steps in making the full construction project at Whiteville High School a reality,” Garland said in an email to WCS staff Tuesday.

“Let us remember,” Garland wrote, “One act of nature such as Hurricane Florence can dramatically reshape the plans for school construction. While we were spared with minimal damage to all of our facilities, there are some districts struggling to reopen and have not reopened. Onslow County (Camp Lejeune and Jacksonville) reports $130 million in damages. They are reporting to have spent over $5 million in cleanup just to get back to running the system. Pender County has exhausted a reported $5-9 million in cleanup recovery efforts. They have not restarted school yet but plan to on Oct. 18 (one month after the storm).”

 

VIDEO: Architect firm presents Whiteville High School renderings:

Watch a snippet of LS3P's simulation of Whiteville High School's new look!

Posted by Whiteville City Schools on Monday, October 8, 2018

 

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