County schools ready to build

By Andy Winemiller -

DOBSON — Surry County Schools has plans for its share of $30 million which will be borrowed by county commissioners to address school capital needs.

On Thursday, officials from all three school systems in the county met with the Surry County Board of Commissioners during a budget workshop. The county school district told the board the schools are ready to move forward with renovations to three elementary campuses.

In 2013 and 2014, school construction consultant Bill Powell developed a facilities study for the county district, a tool school and county officials are using to prioritize capital projects. Powell did the same for Mount Airy City and Elkin City schools.

Phase I of the Powell Study calls for renovations at Dobson, Mountain Park and Franklin Elementary Schools. Powell placed a $12.8 million price tag on the district’s Phase I renovations.

However, in 2016, Surry County Schools superintendent Dr. Travis Reeves noted the costs associated with completing those projects was nearly $17 million, as construction costs had increased in the more than two years since Powell had completed the study.

On Thursday, commissioners saw an updated estimate from Powell, placing the cost of the renovations at the three aging elementary schools at nearly $21 million.

The three schools include buildings which are more than a half-century old. Some buildings are nearing 70 years old. The $20.8 million would be used to renovate those buildings, with the exception of one.

Reeves said a 1951 arts building at Dobson Elementary would have to be demolished, and something would need to be constructed to take its place. The building houses art classes, special education services and other functions.

The cost of that new building has a price tag of nearly $1.5 million, according to a revised cost estimate from Powell.

While the costs associated with the county’s Phase I improvements would equate to nearly 30 percent of the county’s operating budget for the 2016-17 fiscal year, commissioners have a plan in place for addressing school capital needs.

“I would like to take this opportunity to publicly thank you for your long-range vision and fiscally responsible decision to borrow $55 million for the capital needs of our county, especially those of Surry County Schools,” said Reeves at a county board meeting in Elkin. “We are grateful that you value public education and agree with the facility needs that we have identified to make our schools safer and more conducive to learning.”

Reeves was speaking of the county’s plan to borrow $55 million over the next three years to address capital needs; $30 million of those funds will be directed at school projects in the 2018-19 fiscal year.

Though not approved yet, commissioners plan to borrow another $30 million for use in school facility projects in the 2022-23 fiscal year.

While the funds for renovating the three elementary schools won’t be available until the money is borrowed in the 2018-19 fiscal year, Reeves said much work is needed to get them “shovel-ready” by the time the dollars become available.

For that, the district has requested $950,000 to put toward architectural and engineering fees in the 2017-18 fiscal year.

The county district has also requested about $1.4 million for other capital needs it wants to address in the next fiscal year, and school officials are asking for an increase in capital outlay funding from $110 per student to $150 per student.

In all, the school system’s request for dollars related to capital expenses in the 2017-18 fiscal year would top $3.5 million.

Another element of the county’s financial plan — in addition to its plans to borrow monies — is setting aside funds for pay-as-you-go projects and regular capital funding.

To address those needs, the county’s financial plan calls for the county to allocate $3 million to address projects in all three school systems in Surry County each year in the 2017-18, 2018-19 and 2019-20 fiscal years.

By Andy Winemiller

Andy is a staff writer and may be reached at 415-4698.

Andy is a staff writer and may be reached at 415-4698.

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