Halifax County School Board went on record Monday evening supporting building a new Halifax County High School rather then renovate and agreed to purchase a piece of property near the current school as part of the project.
In addition to making decisions on the high school, the school board also decided to move forward with community meetings to talk with the public about consolidation of schools.
At an August work session, school board members discussed a plan to address the high school as well as elementary schools built in the 60s that included raising real estate tax by two cents, using sales tax funding and using savings from consolidation of elementary schools to move forward with the high school project.
The entire project for a new high school is said to cost approximately $172,700,000 over 30 years with interest.
These plans still have to go to before the Halifax County Board of Supervisors, who will be tasked with allocating funding to the school system for the project.
Supervisors Jeff Francisco and Garland Ricketts, who lead the finance committee, have been vocal about their desire to receive more options for the high school project and their openness to renovating the high school rather than build new.
Francisco said on Tuesday that he would still like to see a true renovation number before making a decision, and would like to see the cost of a high school below $100 million. The most recent figures provided by Branch Builds had a new school with athletic fields costing $117,652,174.
One citizen, Jack Dunavant of Halifax, also criticized the need for a new high school at Monday’s meeting prior to the school board’s vote.
“Most people think our superintendent wants to build a new mega school in Halifax to pad his resume for employment elsewhere,” said Dunavant, who believes students and maintenance staff would not take care of a new facility.
“As an engineer, I have pointed out that most of the issues of our high school are due to the extremely poor maintenance and willful student disrespect for public property. The broken armrests in the auditorium could be repaired from two little screws with Lowe’s…new buildings do not a good student make. If we put our kids in the Taj Mahal under present management, imagine what it would look like in a year.”
Superintendent Dr. Mark Lineburg also informed the board Monday evening that the figures he presented at the Aug. 25 work session are being reviewed by an independent financial consultant, Baker Tilly, LLP. The financial consulting company was recommended by county administrator Scott Simpson to review the “accuracy and validity of (their) financial, enrollment and capital projections.”
This review is slated to be completed by Sept. 30.
However, Lineburg said he is “confident in the numbers.”
At the Aug. 25 meeting, Lineburg outlined roughly $164,800,000 in “available revenue” to go towards the $172 million high school project.
That $164 million figure includes $98.8 million in projected revenue from the sales tax over the next 30 years and $66 million from the county’s debt service.
County staff has estimated the sales tax will generate $2,845,337.41 in the first year.
The superintendent also noted that they have $3,800,000 in capital monies that could be carried over, and $4 million in ESSER III funds from the American Rescue Plan Act that could be used toward capital projects as long as it’s related to COVID-19 needs such as touchless sinks.
With the capital carryover and ESSER III funds, the $164,800,000 in “available revenue” increases to $172,600,000.
The superintendent also said a 2 cents increase in real estate taxes could generate $760,000 that could help with this project.
A part of Lineburg’s proposal, the school system would consolidate the county’s elementary schools from seven to four and increase teacher compensation while cutting 10 positions.
In his presentations, he laid out what it would cost if they continued to run seven elementary schools or if they closed one, two or three.
The three schools discussed for closing were Clays Mill Elementary, Meadville Elementary and Sinai Elementary.
Closing those three schools, Lineburg said, could generate $6,679,000 in utility and maintenance savings and $69,225,000 in personnel savings over 30 years.
In taking action on this proposal for addressing the high school and elementary schools, ED-2 trustee Roy Keith Lloyd offered a motion to send their endorsement of building a new high school to supervisors, which was seconded by ED-3 trustee Sandra Garner-Coleman.
This motion passed with a four to two vote with ED-1 trustee and chairwoman Kathy Fraley and ED-4 trustee Jay Camp voting against it. ED-7 trustee Keith McDowell was absent from the meeting.
Fraley and Camp both said their constituents were not in favor of building a new high school.
Shifting focus to the elementary schools, Garner-Coleman first offered a motion to consolidate elementary schools from seven schools to either five or four and in her motion tasked the superintendent to set public hearings for the closing of the schools.
ED-5 trustee Freddie Edmunds seconded the motion.
ED-8 trustee Walter Potts then asked Garner-Coleman if she was referring to closing Meadville, Sinai and Clays Mill, and she said she was.
The superintendent then said he needed to clarify if they needed to have public hearings first before an official decision is made.
Lloyd told the board he felt it would be more appropriate to have conversations with the public first at public hearings and then come back with an official vote. Camp agreed.
Garner-Coleman noted that when looking at consolidating schools, she was looking at what would provide the most savings to help reach the overall objective.
Lloyd also noted that closing schools was “part of a difficult conversation.”
Lineburg suggested they meet with the public and come back in November with a final decision.
Garner-Coleman then withdrew her previous motion, and made a new motion to authorize Lineburg to set up town hall meetings regarding the consolidation of schools. In stating her motion, she also said the board would return in November with a recommendation for consolidation.
The motion was seconded by Edmunds and unanimously approved by the board with Fraley noting that she’s open to town hall meetings.
Moving forward, members of the joint facility meeting, comprised of members of the Halifax County Board of Supervisors and the school board, are expected to review what mechanisms to use moving forward with the high school project such as PPEA (Public-Private Education Facilities and Infrastructure Act) or design-bid-build in a Sept. 21 meeting.
Both full boards also are slated to meet on Oct. 26 at Halifax County High School to determine how to proceed with the project.
In other action regarding the high school, school board members also agreed to purchase a 12-acre property at a cost of $360,000 near the current high school that has been referenced by the board as Powell land.
The offer to purchase this land previously went before the board but was voted down at that time.
On Monday, Garner-Coleman offered a motion to purchase the property, which was seconded by Potts, and approved at a four to two vote with Fraley and Camp voting against the measure.
Interim director of secondary instruction Scott Worner told the school board in June that the acreage they purchased could be used in a variety of ways depending on if the high school is renovated or rebuilt such as an area to place mobile units for renovation.
If they choose to build a new school, Worner said the new building could be built in a different area with part of the campus used for staging equipment in a fenced off area and students could remain in the current school.