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Needs-based capital fund grants expanded for schools

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. 

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“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. 

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