The Nash-Rocky Mount Board of Education met Monday at Rocky Mount High School to pass five separate motions designed to kick start the process of building a new elementary school in the Red Oak area of Nash County.
For roughly two years, the school board has been discussing plans to close three elementary schools in the district, build a new elementary school in the northern part of the county and consolidate those three schools in one location.
But Monday’s decisions were not without controversy. Three of the measures did not pass unanimously and Nash County commissioners, who largely will be funding the school district, already have said they will not support one of the decisions.
The agenda for Monday’s meeting noted that the decision to close Cedar Grove Elementary School, Red Oak Elementary School and Swift Creek Elementary School would be made that night. However, an agenda item was added Monday that affected details of how the construction of the new school will begin.
Interim Superintendent Del Burns formally recommended the closure of each of the schools.
“Based on information presented in the school closing study and input at the public hearing, the interim superintendent recommends the Board of Education approve closing Cedar Grove Elementary School at a date to be determined and to reassign students to a new school to be constructed,” Burns said at the meeting.
This measure was passed 10-1, with school board member Doneva Chavis as the lone opponent.
In a later interview, Chavis said she felt that closing Cedar Grove Elementary School would not be in the best interest of the students.
“I am more concerned with the kids living north of Castalia along those county lines,” Chavis said. “They have to be bused on some of the worst roads we have in the county and during the winter months, the weather pattern there is different than the rest of the county. Also, my constituents are saying that school is not in that bad of (a) shape. They do need a cafeteria and a media center. I contest that they could move some of the population from Swift Creek and possibly Nashville Elementary over to increase that student population and keep that school open.”
While the decision to close Cedar Grove met with limited opposition, similar motions to close Red Oak Elementary School and Swift Creek Elementary School passed unanimously.
After a lengthy closed session at the end of the meeting, the board came back into open session to deal with the agenda item concerning plans for school construction that was added at the last minute on Monday.
At that time, school board members considered a motion “to authorize the board to enter into a contract with Cumming to provide initial services through the completion of bidding for the new elementary school in an amount that shall not exceed $175,000 and request funding from the commissioners.”
The motion was approved by a vote of 10-1, with school board member Ricky Jenkins as the lone holdout.
““My thought processes have not changed,” Jenkins said. “I think there are better alternatives to spending this money for project management.”
In a later interview, school board member Chris Bissette, who made the motion, said he feels the school board needed the help of a project manager to get the school construction on the right track.
“We need to get off on the right foot with this project,” Bissette said. “We want to hire the project management firm to help us with the details of site selection and with creating the specifications we need for the request for proposals for architect and engineering firms. The county may have people on their board and on their staff who can do these things, but we do not. And I don’t think they are going to want to leave their work to come help us with ours.”
While school board members may request that the county pay $175,000 for these services, it is doubtful if the county will pay for them. Nash County commissioners already have voted to deny payment for the services of a project manager.
At a meeting Monday of the Nash County Board of Commissioners, Chairman Robbie Davis reiterated these sentiments and said he was asking the school board to postpone making a decision regarding hiring a project manager until after the joint meeting of both boards slated for Dec. 11.
In an interview, Bissette said he felt the decision could not be delayed.
“Once the state approves its budget, we have to finalize our budget for this year,” Bissette said. “We need to move ahead with this school construction project so we have the money available to begin the planning in this budget cycle. We really can’t wait until the January meeting to move ahead with this issue.”
Members of the Nash-Rocky Mount Board of Education also voted on a motion “to request that the county commissioners provide $450,000 in funds to employ architects and engineers to begin the design of a new elementary school and to investigate a site or sites for the construction of a new elementary school.”
This motion also passed by a 10-1 vote, with school board member Dean Edwards opposing the measure.
In a later interview, Edwards said he felt the motion was premature.
“I think the $450,000 is a little much right now,” Edwards said. “I think we need to move one stage at a time.”
The joint meeting between the school board members and Nash County commissioners is scheduled for 6 p.m. Dec. 11 in the media center of Nash Central High School.