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Mecklenburg supervisors borrow $50 million for school, keep talking with trustees about site / October 04, 2017
The Mecklenburg Board of Supervisors agreed Monday night to proceed with plans to borrow up to $50 million for a consolidated high school/middle school complex, although the decision came without a resolution on the ultimate site of the new school.

The supervisors will apply for the loan through the Virginia Public School Authority (VPSA) program, which offers low interest financing for local school construction. The supervisors’ vote came just ahead of a Tuesday deadline to apply for the current round of state financing.

Previously, supervisors had signaled their intention to move forward with a lesser borrowed sum to repair elementary schools if supervisors and school board could not reach a consensus on a site for the new secondary school complex.

Officials had said the inability to resolve the two boards’ differences prior the VPSA deadline could result in a delay of three to five years before the county would return to trying to build a consolidated high school/middle school complex.

But, in the words of County Administrator Wayne Carter, “I think we’re clear that we all want to build and need new schools.”

Talks between supervisors and school trustees over potential sites for the new school are ongoing.

“The two boards are making progress finalizing the site selection, and so supervisors agreed it was best to proceed with funding for the high and middle schools,” explained Carter.

A consulting engineering firm hired by the county to scout out sites has been asked to assess the suitability of at least two additional properties, beyond the four sites previously discussed among members of the joint education committee and the Board of Supervisors’ property committee. Committee members are waiting to hear back from the engineers before they make their final choice.

While no one is talking about the exact location of the properties under consideration, Carter said the engineers are providing some rough layouts for facilities at each site.

A source close to the discussions said one of the properties still under consideration sits off Highway 92, and another lies just west of Route 4 and U.S. 58 near Antlers and Landfill Roads.

Even without an agreement on a site, supervisors decided Monday night to go forward with the borrowing request in order to lock in savings on long-term loan interest payments.

R.T. Taylor with Davenport & Company explained that the VPSA prices its bonds twice a year, in the fall and the spring, and the Federal Reserve has signaled its intent to raise the interest rate on borrowed money by at least a quarter of a point. Borrowing now gives the county a hedge against rising interest rates, he said.

For every 0.25 percent rate increase, Mecklenburg County will repay an extra $2.5 million over the life of the bond debt payback, said Taylor.

“We don’t want to have rates spike up so high that we have to cut back on the school,” said Carter, adding that borrowing at least one-half of the money needed for the new school complex now while interest rates are at a historic low — roughly 3.26 percent — mitigates the county’s future risk.

The estimated cost of the new school complex — which would replace Bluestone and Park View high and middle schools — is $100 million.

At least five percent of the money borrowed from VPSA — $2.5 million — must be committed to some aspect of the project within the next six months, Carter explained. That could mean merely issuing a request-for-proposal to hire an architect for the project, he added. The first payment on the loan, roughly $2.6 million, is due July 15.

Mecklenburg County already has more than $4 million socked away for loan payments associated with the school facilities.

The next step is for both the school trustees and supervisors to come together on a site and then for the School Board to hire an architect to design the facility. Carter said this could take up to one year. His best guess for the earliest that Mecklenburg County could finish the school complex is three years.

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Logic is placing the central high school in the county seat. This way, the West and East ends can literally meet in the middle. the So Hill end of the county is no better than the Clarksville end and vice versa. It's time to stop playing politics and popularity contests and focus on the children. It's not about the egos of board members. We are in a position to grow and prosper---so let that positive change occur.

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