County adopts capital needs schedule

By John Peters -

DOBSON — Surry County commissioners on Monday adopted a plan to issue $10 million in bonds in the spring, the first of a planned issuance of up to $55 million in bonds over the next three years.

The three-year plan is aimed at addressing some of the $170 million in capital requests from the county’s three school systems, as well as meet other county-specific needs. Among those needs are construction of a new jail and renovating some county buildings.

Monday’s unanimous approval of a specific project calendar sets the county on a path that will culminate with a projected March 2 closing on the $10 million bond issuance.

That money will be used to renovate the former Dobson Plaza on Atkins Street, which the county purchased earlier this year after Just Save closed its store in February; work on the ongoing renovation of the historic Surry County courthouse; renovation of the Riverside Drive building for the Mount Airy city schools new central office, as well as the design work on larger capital projects for Elkin and Surry County schools.

Those projects involve gymnasium work at both Elkin High School and the middle school, as well as projects at Dobson, Franklin, and Mountain Park elementary schools.

County Administrator Chris Knopf said the Dobson Plaza project, in particular, is actually going to keep long-term expenses down.

“Before buying the plaza, we were talking about building a new facility,” he said. That new construction would have been for the North Carolina Extension Service offices, as well as other county needs. Now, the Extension Service will be moved into the former grocery story location.

“Buying is going to save us money, we’re talking about what is basically a shell building now,” he said of the former shopping center.

The current extension service office, at 210 N. Main St., was old and needed to be replaced. Now, Knopf said, even if that structure were to be torn down, the town would be better off with additional parking to serve the area.

The Mount Airy school office will be moved to the former Pike Electric Corp. building on Riverside Drive, a building purchased with this move in mind.

The work at the Elkin and Surry County schools are part of a larger, $170 million capital needs plan the three school systems commissioned jointly in 2014. Both school officials and county leaders said at that time area voters would need to consider such work in a countywide bond referendum. Since then, neither school administrators nor county officials would take any concrete steps toward putting such a referendum to voters. Instead, the county and school systems have been piecemealing the needed steps each year.

At a retreat earlier this year, county commissioners adopted a three-year, $55 million plan to address some of those issues, as well as other needs of the county, with a specific project calendar.

Knopf explained the county has been retiring debt in recent years. Rather than continuing to pay for capital projects on a year-by-year basis, it stopped funding the annual capital needs requests, combined that money with the debt it would be retiring, to formulate a more comprehensive three-year plan.

The plan approved Monday has county and school officials huddling together this week to make sure, as Knopf said, everyone is “on the same page.”

The plan sets milestone target dates — such as completion of engineering plans, getting construction contracts in hand, and closing on the bonds — from now through March 2.

Other projects that might see funding over the three years, according to the county manager, include additional school system renovation and work on a new county jail.

By John Peters

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