‘This is urgent’

Davidson officials move forward with planning for new high school
Jul. 13, 2013 @ 03:01 PM

Although they still disagree about how a new $45 million high school in fast-growing northern Davidson County should be funded, and when, the Davidson County Board of Commissioners has agreed to appoint two commissioners to a planning committee.

Chairman Fred McClure and Commissioner Larry Potts will meet with county school officials. The board voted to appoint the commissioners after discussions with Superintendent Fred Mock and Board of Education Chairwoman Carol Crouse. 
Parents and teachers have lobbied for weeks to get commissioners to dedicate funding for the school aimed at relieving overcrowding at Ledford and North Davidson high schools. Commissioner Billy Joe Kepley, who says the school is his top priority, brought the issue to the board for discussion.
The county has as much as $6 million available, Kepley said, from capital outlay and other sources, to start the project. The school would be built on county property near Oak Grove Middle School at Hoy Long Road.
“If we put it on the fast track, we could probably have students in there in three years,” Kepley said. “This is urgent. I will not back off on it. We have the $6 million. We have to look for more. We should be able to figure something out.”
Kepley suggested moving at least 600 students to a new school. Ledford High School Principal Jonathan Brown recently told commissioners that his school serves about 1,250 students every day.
“If 450 students were moved from Ledford and North Davidson, the two schools would still be full,” Kepley said.
Commissioners have discussed raising the sales tax by a quarter cent and using bonds to build the school. The school board has $18 million in a fund balance.
Crouse said she would personally be in favor of the school board appropriating $5 million of the balance to the project. A new high school is the school board’s No. 1 priority.
Mock urged caution.
“Maybe after we get a budget from the General Assembly, we could look at it,” Mock said.
The project, which is included in the county’s five-year capital improvement plan, could require a 2 1/2 cents per $100 of valuation property tax increase to finance the debt service, according to estimates. A quarter-cent sales tax increase would raise about $2.2 million annually, according to estimates, enough to pay the debt service on a $35.5 million loan for 20 years.
Commissioners Todd Yates and Larry Potts said they would support a sales tax referendum for a quarter-cent hike.
“You would pay back based on what you buy,” Potts said.
Commissioners disagree on priorities. The proposed Interstate 85 industrial park in Linwood and the proposed new Davidson County Sheriff’s Office complex that would be located off of U.S. 64 east near County School Road also are top items.
“The sheriff’s office should be before the school,” said Commissioner Sam Watford. “We can start planning for the school. I don’t think the public will support a tax increase or a bond referendum.”
“We should not do away with other projects to do this one,” said Commissioner Don Truell.
Midway Mayor Norman Wilkes offered a copy of a resolution adopted by the Midway Town Council on June 3 supporting a new school as a top priority.  But when questioned by Potts about a property tax increase to pay for the school, Wilkes said he did not support a tax increase.
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Crowded Schools

• Ledford High School: Built in 1976 with additions added later, it has 1,230 students attending with a capacity of 1,000.
• North Davidson High School: Built in 1953 with later additions, it has 1,547 students enrolled on a campus with a designed capacity of 1,325.
• Classrooms:  The two high schools have 16 mobile units. Ledford has 13 roving teachers.
• Parking: Limited for buses and staff at both schools.