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Planning to begin on proposed Haywood Schools facility

Haywood County has taken its first formal step forward in pursuit of a proposed $13 million, 40,000-square-foot central administration facility requested by Haywood County Schools. 

Back on Aug. 19, HCS Superintendent Dr. Bill Nolte presented commissioners with the ambitious plan that would consolidate several existing buildings into one. Called the Educational Support Center, it comes partly of necessity and partly for efficiency. 

HCS’ current central administration facility is scheduled for redevelopment into affordable housing for seniors and veterans, which means Nolte and his staff need to be out by December 2020. But other HCS functions, like food service and teacher trainings, take place at locations all over the county. 

A centralized location would make more sense from a time management perspective while also allowing HCS to dispose of several aging buildings that are expensive to heat, to light and to maintain. 

After that presentation, Haywood County Board of Commissioners Chairman Kevin Ensley directed County Manager Bryant Morehead to form a small study group with county staff and HCS administrators. 

On Sept. 16, commissioners unanimously approved a measure to formally authorize Morehead to participate in planning for a location and/or facility. 

The authorization came at the request of the school board, which had previously passed a resolution of its own.

“We hereby direct Superintendent Dr. Bill Nolte and Associate Superintendent Dr. Trevor Putnam to enter formal planning with representatives of the Haywood County Board of Commissioners for an Educational Support Services facility with a focus on long-term, efficient, effective and consolidated operations,” reads the resolution, passed by HCS Sept. 9. “We hereby respectfully request that the Haywood County Board of County Commissioners appoint representatives to enter into formal joint planning with individuals designated by the Haywood County Board of Education for the purposes of the foregoing.”

Morehead said he’s already met twice with HCS representatives. 

“We’ve talked at length about the presentation, and about how they’d like to have this consolidated campus for the efficiencies, and how they’d like to get rid of some older buildings,” said Morehead. “We’ve talked about the requirements of that. And we’ve talked about timelines.

If approved, the new facility probably wouldn’t meet the December 2020 deadline, but according to Nolte’s presentation, the longer they wait, the more expensive it will be. Morehead said they’ve gone about as far as they can in planning without formalizing the arrangement. 

“We really didn’t have authority to say, ‘Let’s go out and look at parcel A, or parcel B,’ he said. “That’s going to require debt, so we’ll have to talk to the Local Government Commission about financing. The Local Government Commission will ask what we’re working on, and where our authority comes from, so now we can show that both boards have requested this.”

Financing remains a big hurdle; the project’s price tag is substantial compared to the budgets of the county and the school system, and the LCG will be a key player in any proposed project. 

“They will look at our financial health, our fund balance, our ability to pay,” said Morehead. “We will probably engage some bond counsel, depending on how we finance it. They [the LGC] will also review the bids, and handle shopping the bonds.”

Voter-approved loans are called general obligation bonds and require a successful ballot measure.

“We probably aren’t going that route, but we’ll probably look at limited obligation debt, or LOBs,” he said. “We would probably be able to get a slightly lower rate than an installment loan through a bank, but we can also get the terms that general obligation bonds would have provided.”

Chuck Francis, chair of the HCS board, said he was encouraged by the progress thus far.

“If you’re at the grocery store and people are running you down, telling you that you don’t need this and you need to slow down, well, that’s one thing,” he said. “But I hear a lot of support in the community for this.”

Francis does, however, recognize the gravity of asking for $13 million from a county that is rapidly shedding debt at present. 

“The major concern is funding,” he said. “It’s going to be challenging, as any project is, but my wish is that we can work together to make this happen. We’ve seen other county facilities being upgraded, and it’s the schools’ turn.”

The new facility, Francis said, would help the county operate in “a more effective, efficient, economical manner.”

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