Bond re-do includes Garner schools

khui@newsobserver.comMay 11, 2013 

The outcry over proposed school-bond projects, mainly from Garner residents, has brought funding for Garner High School and Vandora Springs Elementary School back into the fold.

The Wake County school board on Tuesday gave preliminary approval to $940 million in construction projects that school leaders hope to fund largely through a bond referendum this fall.

Two weeks before, school-facilities staff had presented a $925 million list of projects that drew complaints from some board members because it left out several long-sought renovation projects, particularly in Garner.

Board member John Tedesco, who lives in Garner and represents the area, threatened to withdraw his support for the referendum.

Garner Mayor Ronnie Williams said the town lobbied school board members after learning that the bond would fund only 10 percent of Garner High improvements and no work at two other schools. Infrastructure, air quality and other health issues had placed Vandora Springs and Garner High among top priorities for the county. Williams said he was at a loss to explain how those schools ended up on the cutting-room floor.

“This is a good thing for Garner,” he said of the school board’s revised plan. “Garner is entitled to a piece of the pie. I know there are needs all over the county.”

The Vandora Springs renovation, the top-ranked health and safety need in the county, has been estimated at $24.8 million. Garner High, No. 6 overall, would cost an estimated $65.5 million.

The revised bond package still omits about $16.5 million in improvements to East Garner Middle School, leaving it the highest-ranked safety priority not addressed in the bond.

The updated list includes 16 new schools, full renovations for six schools, starting renovations at three schools and other projects. The plan will be presented at next week’s joint meeting of school and county leaders.

“This is the board’s recommended priorities for the bond,” school board chairman Keith Sutton said.

The board is scheduled to give final approval to the list on May 21, a required step for commissioners to place a bond on the ballot.

It’s not expected to be an easy campaign to persuade the public to approve a bond. County administrators estimate the construction program would require a property-tax increase of 5.14 cents, or an additional $135.44 a year on a $263,500 home.

To include the Garner projects in the bond issue, school staff turned to $43 million in unspent school bonds the county is selling this spring. The staff is also proposing to use $10 million from the projected sale of school-system properties.

That $53 million would pay for long-sought renovations at Athens Drive High School and security upgrades to schools. These include making sure that all schools have the same number of surveillance cameras and that all elementary schools have an electronic locking system and a buzzer system for the front entrance.

The shuffling of the money, along with reductions to some projects, allowed more renovations to be funded, including the Garner projects.

“I’m much more comfortable with this list than what I saw two weeks ago,” said board member Susan Evans.

Hui: 919-829-4534

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