Scotland schools to revist consolidation

LAURINBURG — Picking up where it left off after voting earlier this year to close the Pate-Gardner and Washington Park elementary schools, the Scotland County Board of Education on Monday resumed discussion of how a $36 million district-wide consolidation plan may affect the rest of the schools.

“Tonight is just about starting this conversation; it’s not about any answers,” said Superintendent Ron Hargrave. “We did tell the community that we would come back in March and that we would give them an answer as to if there’s going to be a second phase and if so, what is it going to look like. We can’t wait until March to start having that conversation.”

Students formerly served by the two closed schools now attend Sycamore Lane, which was converted to an elementary school over the summer. All middle school students now attend either Carver or Spring Hill.

“Based on preliminary results so far, that move has gone as smooth as we could have asked,” said Larry Johnson, the school system’s auxiliary services superintendent. “From the parent feedback, from the teachers’ feedback, we feel like that transition as well as we could have expected.”

In the proposed second phase of consolidation, 16 classrooms would be added to Sycamore Lane to allow for the closure of Covington Street Elementary and reassignment of its students.

The plan proposed on Monday also called for the relocation of North Laurinburg students to Laurel Hill Elementary, which would involve adding 15 classrooms, expanding the cafeteria, and adding a gymnasium there.

The construction involved with that potential second phase would take eight or nine months to complete, according to Roger Ammons, the school system’s maintenance director, who attended Monday’s meeting by webcam.

“We could actually complete phase two with no interruption to the school day whatsoever,” he said. “We looked at both campuses and according to the architects we can tie on to the buildings and continue to add to the school every day with little interruption, if any at all.”

Staff also proposed a third phase of consolidation, the construction of a 110,000-square-foot elementary school to serve students currently at I. Ellis Johnson and South Scotland.

Preliminary estimates from architects have come in at just over $36 million, which according to school system finance officer Jay Toland could be paid off with $2.8 million payments over 20 years or $2.2 million payments over 30 years.

Toland estimated that the system could save some $3 million per year in staffing, custodial, utility and other costs as a result of the proposed consolidation. Also, the county is expected in 2020 to complete payments of $1.5 million on debt incurred in constructing Spring Hill Middle School and expanding Wagram Elementary School.

Hargrave recommended arranging a joint meeting with the county commissioners before the end of 2015.

“I don’t think we can do this without having that conversation with them and them knowing where this money’s going to come from,” he said.

Also on Monday, the board began discussions of how to use or dispose of the Pate-Gardner and Washington Park school buildings.

Board attorney Nick Sojka presented three categories of options: sale at market value, lease, or retain ownership and allow community nonprofits to make use of the buildings.

Hargrave reported that he has received several “church-related” inquiries regarding the buildings. The board directed staff to have the facilities appraised and to invite parties interested in purchasing, leasing, or using either one.

“Out of the three, I would prefer the reuse for the community,” said board member Darrel Gibson. “But I fear us opening Pandora’s Box. Dr. Hargrave says there are three who’ve talked to him; I’ve had probably 10 people to ask me.”

Mary Katherine Murphy can be reached at 910-506-3169.

By Mary Katherine Murphy

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