LAURINBURG —An architecture firm was on hand at this week’s liaison meeting between school board members and county commissioners to answer questions county leaders have about construction of a proposed new school in the district.
The new facility is expected to cost $28 million and is part of a $41 million plan to consolidate underpopulated schools in the system.
Scotland school officials are considering a public-private partnership in which the school system could have the new school built to its specifications and then lease it from the developer. Commissioners have said such a plan may be premature without the county’s input. The county has to sign off on how the project is paid for before the plan can move forward.
At this week’s meeting, commissioners asked about the advantages and disadvantages of such a partnership versus a bond?
Architect Robbie Farris, with SFL +a Architectural Firm, a company familiar with the public-private partnership funding, told commissioners that a school system could enter into a deal with a private company. With this option, that company would lease the new school to the district with an option to buy after five years. Lease payments made to the company, Farris explained, are not made to the lender, but are deposited into a guaranteed investment contract that earns interest.
Under the lease, the company would be responsible for any repairs needed.
“That’s our problem to deal with, we’re going to have pay for it. Under a normal, traditional agreement, that’s your problem,” Farris said.
After the lease is up and the district assumes ownership of the school, there is the option to continue to use the companies servicing the buildings. But school maintenance staff will also be trained on upkeep of the building and the equipment.
The firm, which built the Sandy Grove Middle School in Hoke County said Scotland County is looking to build a similar school that would be energy positive with solar panels. Farris said that type of school would reduce the amount of money paid for electricity.
He shared if the Sandy Grove were a traditional school, the electricity bills would run about $15,000 per month. He said an energy-positive school’s costs are around $2,300 a month.
Commissioner Whit Gibson wanted to know if energy-positive schools are such a good choices, why more districts are not building them?
Farris’ response was because the schools are different and people don’t like change.
“I haven’t really found a down side to this, but it is more risk for us and more responsibility,” he said.
School board member Jamie Sutherland, clarified that an architect has not been chosen yet. If and when they reach that point in the plan, request for proposals will be done.
This week’s meeting was informational only. The school board will meet meet with the full board of commissioners on Monday to talk about consolidation.
The consolidation plan is expected to cost $41 million. A capacity study in 2014, showing the middle and some of the elementary schools were underpopulated prompted the decision to close some of the schools. The closing of Washington Park and Pate Gardner Elementary schools was the first phase in the plan. The second phase will involve students from Covington Street Elementary School being sent to Sycamore Lane Elementary School. Students attending Early College could be moved to Covington Street.
Finance Officer Jay Toland said the plan will save the county $2.8 million a year.
Maria D. Grandy can be reached at 910-506-3171.