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Narrow vote wins approval of $42 million for Wayne schools

Wayne County Commissioners Ray Mayo and Steve Keen discuss the provisions of a $42 million school construction measure during the Tuesday meeting of the county’s Board of Commissioners. The resolution was the source of some contentious debate, and passed by a 4-3 vote, with Mayo and Keen joining Joe Daugherty and Bill Pate to gain approval. (NL photo by Michael Jaenicke)

By Michael Jaenicke, Staff Writer

The Wayne County Board of Commissioners approved spending $42 million on public school facilities and renovations on Tuesday morning in Goldsboro.

The renovations include spending $1.8 million at the Central Attendance office, $3.8 million at Spring Creek Elementary and $6.6 million at Charles B. Aycock High School.

The sticking point that created most of the discussion was spending $30 million for new schools at Spring Creek and Grantham middle schools.

The measure passed by a 4-3 vote, with commissioners Steve Keen, Bill Pate, Joe Daugherty and Ray Mayo voting for it and John Bell, Wayne Aycock and Ed Cromartie voting against it.

The proposal was for a design/build concept for the two schools, with Davenport and Company, a firm the county has used in the past, most recently at the Mount Olive Steele Memorial Library.

Two representatives from Davenport and Company started the topic with a presentation on the cost of the two schools and how it could be funded.

The Wayne County Public School Board’s wanted SFL Architect to handle the work and President/CEO Robert Ferris was in front of the county board to enlighten county officials about his experience with design/build.

“To my knowledge, it (design/build) has never been done before with a school, and it wasn’t possible until last summer when the Legislature passed it through,” Ferris said.

Ferris said it would cost more and take much longer to build. Both the county and school system wanted to start construction on the schools in the spring.

“I strongly suggest you not do that. Design/build does not give you any value and I have a lot of experience to back that up with,” Ferris said. “It absolutely costs you more in higher interest rates and higher costs. I would guarantee and promise you that. There’s no question in my mind you will spend more money. You will not start construction in the spring, it will take eight to nine months.”

But he didn’t deter Keen from wanting a design/build concept with Davenport along for the ride. Mayo said the county saved about $1 million using design/build at the Steele Memorial Library.

“I was sold on Davenport’s presentation, and the way they have worked with the county the last 15 years,” Keen said. “I’m opposed to a lease and design/build works. The DOT uses it. The best way for this county to move forward is to trust the school board, but I want them to trust us. We cut 4 cents off (property) taxes to further fund education.”

Bell liked the original motion by Keen but suggested that it not include design/build. Only Bell and Cromartie voted for the motion.

“The school board did not select design/build and it is not our responsibility to tell them who or what method to use,” Bell said.

Mitchell Briguilio, vice president of Davenport and Company laid out the capital and debt that would come with the projects, which would use state lottery funds and sales tax receipts but still has a shortfall on the 20-year endeavor.

Keen cautioned against depending on the lottery, which he said fell from $2.4 million to $1.3 million during a five-year span.

“My skepticism is the numbers just don’t add up,” Daugherty said. “If we get $4 million from sales tax and $1.3 million that’s $5.3 million, of which you have to subtract $1 million for an existing loan puts you at $4.3 million. Then take away capital outlay and it’s $2.3 million, and you want to sign a lease for $3.2 million? So how much are we going to have to raise the tax rate?”

Briguilio said all things considered, it would require a 3.6 cent increase in property taxes.

Nan Barwick, financial officer for the public schools, said her plan made sense and that she was prepared to spend all of the school’s facility funds to make it happen.

“My projections are based on looking at the whole 20 years; not year-to-year,” she said. “We will have some QSCB (Qualified School Construction Bonds) paid in three years. I also figured into it that we’d have to eliminate the $4 million threshold the school board wants. And yes, we are counting on some form of continual payment from the state lottery.”

An added cost to the project is $1.7 million Barwick said would cover maintenance on the new schools for the first year, calling it a “worst case scenario” estimate.

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