County plans funding for new elementary schools

Catawba County plans to provide more than $30 million total to its three school systems in the next four years for each to build a new elementary school.

The money for the schools comes mostly from county tax allocations and partly from N.C. Education Lottery funds.

The county set up a system in 2003 to reserve a portion of the tax rate each year for school improvements and construction, said Rodney Miller, the county finance director. In 2007, the county increased that allocation to also include lottery money, Miller said.

"The lottery funding, with the tax rate, brings in about $7.5 million a year for the school improvements and construction," Miller said. "Those funds each year have accumulated."

The county plans to provide money for three new elementary schools in a 2011-15 funding cycle. Miller said the county will give about $11 million to Newton-Conover City Schools (NCCS) and $11 million to Hickory Public Schools (HPS) during the 2012-13 fiscal year.

NCCS plans to build a new South Newton Elementary School at the current South Newton site on West "I" Street, said Superintendent Dr. Barry Redmond. The school will serve 400-450 students.

"It will be an L-shaped building to the left (of the current building) down a sloped hill and onto the hard-topped area," Redmond said. "Once we got that built, we'd demolish most of those other buildings that are there. That's where we'd park, reseed and have some of that as a play area."

Redmond said the new South Newton school will be more modern and secure than the current facility, which has an open layout with outdoor walkways instead of indoor hallways.

"Basically, we'll have two access points," he said. "It will be two-story and maximize the topography of that site."

Redmond said preliminary discussions about the new school began more than a year ago. He said NCCS hopes to start construction on the new school by fall 2012 and open it by fall 2013.

HPS plans to begin a search for a school architect in January and use 2012 as a planning year for a new Longview Elementary School on the system's old Grandview Middle School property, said Beverly Snowden, public information officer for the system. HPS hopes to begin construction in 2013 and open the new school as early as January 2014.

The school would serve 450-600 students.

"Sometimes with construction, also with weather, you never know how things will move," Snowden said. "If it doesn't happen then, it could happen in August 2014."

Miller said commissioners plan to spend about $15 million on a new Catawba County Schools (CCS) elementary school that will open in 2015.

He said plans call for a large elementary school.

CCS Superintendent Glenn Barger said the system hopes to build a school in the Propst Crossroads area to replace the current Banoak Elementary School. Barger said Banoak is currently about 60 students over its 300-student capacity.

"It's also landlocked there; we can't expand it," Barger said.

"Blackburn is also growing and over capacity. Mountain View continues to grow. If the school's put in the right spot, we can relieve some of that for all three schools."

Barger said CCS will look to build the school further west in the county than the current Banoak Elementary.

"We're starting to examine possible school sites for that facility," he said. "One of the things the (school) board will do in 2012 is select an architect. Money will be available to us in 2014. We'll look at construction in 2015. We're the last project in the cycle."

The O-N-E staff writer Nash Dunn contributed to this report.