Needs-based capital fund grants expanded for schools
The Needs-Based Public Schools Capital Fund Grant Program was established as part of the education lottery in the 2017-18 state budget to provide more money in lottery funds for school construction in high-need counties. This year, the criteria to be eligible for these grants has expanded widely to include almost all counties in the state due to a surplus of funds.
Previously, NBPSCF grants were only available to tier 1 counties. The North Carolina Department of Commerce ranks counties each year based on economic well-being and assigns them a Tier designation. The Tier system is incorporated into various state programs dealing with economic activity. The 40 most distressed counties are designated as Tier 1, the next 40 as Tier 2 and the 20 least distressed as Tier 3. Haywood, Macon and Jackson Counties are all Tier 2 this year, while Swain is Tier 1.
“We have not traditionally been eligible for these because they were needs-based, and they tended to only be eligible for districts that were far poorer than Jackson County,” said Associate Superintendent of Jackson County Schools, Jake Buchanan during a Feb. 22 budget work session. “They opened it up for eligibility to be much wider and it is a matching grant. So, we’re able to apply for these funds as long as county commissioners pledge a 5% match if we’re awarded these grants.”
Though the NBPSCF grants have been restricted to Tier 1 counties in the past, this year all counties in the state, save Buncombe, Guilford, Mecklenburg and Wake, are able to apply for the needs-based grants.
Grant funding can only be used for construction of new school buildings, additions, repairs and renovations; they may not be used for property acquisition or capital improvements to administration buildings.
During a special-called meeting last week, Haywood County Schools Associate Superintendent Trevor Putnam informed his county’s school board that administration had designated Canton Middle School as the focus of this grant opportunity.
“The main building was built in the 1930s,” said Putnam. “The real problem at Canton Middle is it cannot be renovated in the interior. Many of the walls are load-bearing, and renovating just doesn’t gain you more suitable classroom space. So, it just makes sense that Canton Middle is the one designated.”
The maximum grant request for a new middle school is $40 million. As part of the approval process, Haywood County Commissioners would have to agree to a 5% match of $2 million for the project.
According to Putnam, lots of scenarios are being considered for a new Canton Middle School. Some of those scenarios include a demolition and rebuilding on a similar site to where the school sits now, others include land exploration and complete relocation of the school.
“Spend $2 million to get $40 million, I believe that’s a good buy,” said Haywood County Schools Board of Education Chairman Chuck Francis.
Buchanan is writing grants for three projects that are most needed in Jackson County Schools — cafeteria and classroom space at Fairview Elementary; ADA upgrades to Smoky Mountain High School Stadium; and gym, performance and classroom space at Blue Ridge School.
The total estimated cost for the Fairview cafeteria and classroom project is over $8 million. The matching amount required from the county would be just over $400,000. The estimated cost for the ADA upgrades to Smoky Mountain High School Stadium is more than $7 million and would require $350,000 from the county commission. Estimated cost for the Blue Ridge School gym, performance space and classrooms is over $14 million and would require a match of over $700,000 from the county.
Project costs were estimated according to the structure recommended by the Department of Public Instruction; $309 per square foot for classroom space, $500 per square foot for larger area spaces, and 5% inflation per year for project timeline.
The total matching request for Jackson County on these three capital projects is $1,494,121 and could result in almost $30 million of grant funding for Jackson County Schools. Jackson County Commissioners approved the match request at their March 1 meeting.