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Halifax County trustees stick to high school plan

SoVaNow.com / March 14, 2019
The Halifax County School Board reaffirmed their support Monday night for a new high school in the face of criticism that the project is too costly, with trustees defending the estimated $99 million price tag one week after the Halifax County Board of Supervisors ordered its own architectural study on an HCHS upgrade.

“We are going to build a new high school,” said School Board Chair Joe Gasperini at the trustees’ regular monthly meeting Monday night in Halifax.

Gasperini argued that delaying action on a replacement for the tattered HCHS facility will drive up the cost by $7 million or more with each passing year: “It’s just a matter of when we do it. And the sooner we do it, the cheaper it will be for the community.”

Orey Hill, ED-1 trustee, added that Halifax County has a “one-time shot” to rebuild HCHS without having to rely solely on property tax revenue to finance construction. Hill was referring to the local sales tax referendum that county leaders anticipate placing on the November general election ballot. The proposed 1-cent tax would cover roughly half the cost of a new high school.

Hill urged citizens to consider what will happen if the county fails to pass the sales tax and opts not to build a new high school — something he suggested has to happen soon, if not now.

“If 10 to 15 years from now, if you think we’re going to need a new high school and you don’t want to pay 20 cents on the real estate tax, this is the time,” said Hill, adding, “If that [referendum] doesn’t pass, it’s never coming again.”

However, two members of the audience who spoke at Monday’s meeting urged trustees to consider less pricey alternatives to a new facility. One speaker, Kathy Fraley of Nathalie, has qualified to run for School Board in November against Hill, who has filed for re-election.

Fraley called the nearly $100 million estimate for a new HCHS “unsustainable,” and voiced support for a plan first floated by ED-1 supervisor J.T. Davis to consolidate grades 7-12 at the Halifax County Middle School building and return sixth graders to the county’s seven elementary schools. Of the School Board’s push for a new high school, “We don’t have the plans, we don’t have the money, we only have a dream,” said Fraley in prepared remarks.

She said a HCHS replacement, financed solely with real estate tax revenue, would push up the existing tax by 21 cents, on top of the current rate of 48 cents per $100 in value. Gasperini disputed that figure, saying the property tax would likely rise by between six and eight cents, provided the local sales tax is approved by voters.

Also speaking out against a new high school was Phyllis Smith, also from Nathalie and a former ED-1 school trustee. She pointed to the experience of Mecklenburg County, which is building a new school at a cost of somewhere between $104 million and $131 million. That school, a consolidated middle school-high school complex, is being built to accommodate 2,500 students in grades 7-12.

The price tag for Mecklenburg’s facility, she argued, is much less on a per capita basis than Halifax’s proposal for a $99 million high school to house a population of just under 1,500 students.

“Maybe [Mecklenburg officials] could suggest how they are building two schools” — the consolidated middle school and high school — “for a much more reasonable amount than the $100 million-plus price being discussed for our county,” said Smith.

Trustees defended the work of the board’s design firm, Moseley Architects, by praising its reputation for school quality and pointing out aspects of the proposed facility that make it more than “just a structure,” in the words of ED-2 trustee Roy Keith Lloyd.

Moseley’s design is not simply for “a high school, but a career development center,” Lloyd said, “something other counties will look at and want to model [their own high schools] after Halifax County.”

Vice chairman Sandra Garner-Coleman chimed in that “our target is not to build a Taj Mahal by any means,” but rather “something feasible, that will produce a good learning environment for our children, and that our county will be proud of.”

Coleman also said the School Board is doing everything it can to “chisel away” at the cost of the replacement facility while providing “the very best for our children with this quality school, spending as [little] money as we possibly can.

She, too, pointed to the importance of the sales tax vote in November: “I think the community needs to know that we’re going to do everything in our power not to increase property taxes. I’m a property owner, too.

“People may think we don’t understand that,” Coleman said, “but we understand.”

Lloyd expressed concern that citizens will be reluctant to back the high school project unless they are comfortable knowing how much more in taxes they’ll have to pay — which includes the sales tax, which would be tacked on to the state’s 5.3 cent levy. Like the state tax, the local sales tax would not apply to groceries, prescription drugs, automobiles and certain other types of purchases.

Superintendent of Schools Mark Lineburg acknowledged the importance of providing voters with information on how much more they may pay per month with a new school, but asked for more time. “We’re going to come up with that number, we’re just not quite there yet.”

Lineburg said the administration has come up with a request-for-proposal for the new high school — a key step in determining how much the project will actually cost — and “every single day we’re trying to drive down that number.”

He also raised two areas where the School Board may be able to ease the financial strain with a new building: through private funding and sponsorships, and by lowering operating costs due to a more efficient facility.

“Through operational savings we’re going to save the county at least a penny, maybe two” on any potential increase in the real estate tax, said Lineburg. One cent of real estate tax yields about $377,000 in revenue.

With the School Board and Board of Supervisors facing a deadline of August to agree on a resolution for the sales tax referendum, Lineburg said “time becomes of the essence” in coming up with a plan that leaders of both boards can support and take to voters.

Lineburg, who devoted a lengthy portion of his remarks Monday night to a consultants’ study that shows Halifax County headed on a path toward lower overall population and student enrollment, said “the question becomes, ‘What are we going to do’ — are we going to hang on or try to make things better?” He suggested a new high school could be a big part of breaking “a vicious cycle we’re in now.

“I would caution anyone not to jump on any number at all” for how much it may cost until more work can be done, he added.

Todd Moser, ED-6 trustee, suggested that the School Board should take one more step: sit down with county supervisors and “very closely and very conservatively” hash out a consensus plan for the school. “If there are any discussions or decisions, that needs to be a mutual thing,” Moser said.

That drew a mild retort from Gasperini: “The School Board runs the schools, and the School Board makes the decisions on what happens inside the schools. We are going to build a new high school, we are not going to do a renovation.”



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Comments

You all can discount anything Todd Moser, ED-6 trustee, suggested because he works directly for the Board of Supervisors and will now enjoy a 4% pay raise if the County budget is approved as advertised with employee raises. He knows better than to cross the BOS and will say anything to personally save face. He should not be on the School Board.

Comments

Mr. Gasperini has fixed himself to the first number that the consultants threw out. Comparing erroneously North Richmond to tiny Halifax. Your numbers don't add up School Board. Build both middle and High school at the fairgrounds and now you have space for all athletics. Your lack of proper planning has you stuck on remaining in teh same soggy spot without any additional land to provide adequate athletic fields. Think this through.

Comments

To the voters in Gasperini's district, you need to vote him out. We are a republic not a democracy. The BOS gives you money to run the schools. In many districts the BOS/ County controls the buildings etc and the school board runs the school only. Someone needs to run against these people that want to waste 100 million. Where are the Dickie Abbotts when you need them.

Comments

Little Gasperini sounds like he has a Napoleon syndrome.
The Little Dictator needs to take a step back and try
to understand that he works with the BOS, not dictates
to them. I guess he might be happier in Venezuela. I can
only hope his constituents vote this jerk out and gets
A representative that has a brain, not an ego!

Comments

Halifax has always wanted to drive/ride in the Cadillac while spending a Pinto budget!! Study the history folks some things never change!!!


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