BOE will pursue grant for new school

BAKERSVILLE – The Mitchell County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved a decision this past Wednesday to allow the Mitchell County Board of Education to proceed with applying for a needs-based grant with the end goal of building a new school for grades three-through-eight at a special joint meeting between the two boards. 

Executive Director of Facilities for Mitchell County Schools Kim Hodshon addressed the commissioners first and discussed the grant in a brief PowerPoint presentation. 

The grant application was due this past Friday. The school system is applying for $15 million in aid and would need to contribute $5 million of its own money if awarded the grant. 

The money would go toward the construction of a new, approximately 100,000 square-foot school built for a capacity of 800 students – about 650 students would attend the school if it opened today.

The school would be slated to open in time for the 2021-22 school year and would carry a total approximate construction cost of $24.4 million. 

Hodshon said the school system would look toward a no- or low-interest loan to cover the remaining balance. 

Rob Carlton, from Carlton-Edwards Architects, and Jim Hinton, of Cope Architecture and Stan Cook from Cook Engineering & Inspection Services, were in attendance to present plans, cost estimates and field questions. 

The proposed school would be built in the area where students and faculty currently park at Mitchell High School. The building would have multiple floors and would contain a multipurpose gymnasium/auditorium with retractable bleachers that could seat the entire student body if needed. 

Hodshon said the plans are being drawn up with safety at the forefront. The building would contain state of the art security features, including automatically locking doors, security cameras and a security vestibule that must be crossed through to reach the inside of the school. 

To allow for a new building, a new 165-space parking lot would be paved behind the high school, next to the football field. A new road would have to be paved that would divert high school traffic the opposite direction of the middle school, to the new lot. 

The construction estimate is about $200 per square foot for a total approximate cost of $21,663,000. The new road to the high school would cost about $159,950, and the new parking lot would carry a total cost of about $324,380, according to the proposed plans. 

Hodshon said principals, teachers and faculty were consulted every step of the way in the design process. 

“We met with the staff to see what was needed,” she said. “Safety and security were at the forefront of the planning process. We see this as an opportunity in many different ways.”

The architectural representatives also presented estimated costs for future improvements, including a new auxiliary gymnasium, artificial turf for the Mitchell football field and new lighting for both the softball and baseball fields. 

The improvement projects carry an estimated construction cost of about $3,944,936.

Commissioner Jacob Willis said the future improvements should be completed as soon as possible, adding that the football field could not hold up with multiple soccer and football teams using it throughout the year. 

“If we don’t make the future improvements, we’re going to hurt our kids,” Willis said. 

Board of Commissioners Chair Matthew “Vern” Grindstaff also noted the future improvements are essential and added the auxiliary gymnasium, in particular, could be a future joint recreation project between the school system and the county. 

The commissioners recently discussed a centralized county recreation building, perhaps in Ledger, that is entirely independent of any potential future expansions of the YMCA into the county. 

Hodshon said a new school would save the school system thousands in the long run. In personnel alone, the county would save about $500,000 annually in the form of teachers retiring. 

Transportation costs, Hodshon added, would be similar to what they are now but the school system would save thousands in utility bills and annual capital and maintenance costs for Deyton Elementary, Harris Middle and Bowman Middle. 

Middle school students could also walk to the high school to take certain classes not currently offered at Harris and Bowman. 

Superintendent Chad Calhoun said the personnel savings are what jump out to him as the most significant advantage. 

“Personnel is what really concerns me,” Calhoun said. “We’ve had to dip into fund balance a good bit to pay our teachers recently, and this would be bigger savings than anything.”

Calhoun added applying for the grant is a chance the school system has to take. 

“There’s never a perfect time to build a school,” Calhoun said. “We may never get this opportunity again. It’s not just about doing it. A lot has to fall in place for this to work. To get this grant, we need everybody’s support.”

If selected, Mitchell County Schools would be awarded the grant at the end of September. The grant money will be parceled out to the winning school system in phases to fund construction as it progresses. If the school system is awarded the grant, there would be about nine months of design time, and shortly after, the project would go out for bid to certified construction companies.

The MItchell News

Mailing Address: PO Box 339 
Spruce Pine, NC 28777 
Phone: 828-765-7169
Fax: 828-765-1616