School board approves property acquisition
The Haywood County School Board has approved the acquisition of a parcel of land off Ratcliff Cove Road for the construction of a facility that would consolidate several of its auxiliary services.
“The reason for the interest in Ratcliff Cove is that it is central to all of our facilities,” said Trevor Putnam, superintendent of Haywood County Schools.
The school system plans to use the 29-acre property to house four central services that are currently located in separate areas of the county. A school bus garage and maintenance facility that is currently located on Francis Farm Road, food and nutrition services that is based at the old Crabtree School, the information technology department that is working out of the old Central Elementary School building in Waynesville and the boardroom where the school system hosts training and the board of education holds its meetings.
Both the information technology department and Central Haywood High School used to be housed at the Education Center complex in Clyde — also home to the board of education and the current boardroom — but both were severely damaged in the flooding caused by Tropical Storm Fred in August 2021. The boardroom received minimal damage and was operational shortly after flood waters receded. However, partly because repairs would have been so expensive, and partly because the Pigeon River is so likely to flood again, the school system decided to relocate the information technology department and Central Haywood High School. Both are now located at the old Central Elementary School building.
“If you take off from the Ratcliff Cove property, the maximum travel time you will have to any of our facilities is 15 minutes, with the exception of Meadowbrook,” Putnam said. “That helps with response time, that helps with the amount of fuel needed to travel between facilities and schools.”
The property also has sewer and water, as well as a North Carolina Department of Public Instruction fiber optic line that runs within half a mile of it, which means the state will pay for the school system to connect to the fiber.
The parcel of land was previously zoned for low- to medium-density residential development only. However, the Waynesville Planning Board recommended the Waynesville Town Council rezone the plot to create a mixed-use overlay which would allow for live-work units, financial and business support services, laundry services, funeral homes, personal services, general commercial establishments of less than 100,000 square feet, gas stations, restaurants and government services. The recommendation came with the stipulation that the mixed-use overlay only become effective if and when the school system takes possession of the land.
The current asking price on the property is $1.85 million, but in talks with the property owners, the school system is looking at paying around $1.68 million.
Haywood County Schools has approximately $2.5 million in North Carolina Emergency Management Funds, of which about $800,000 will go toward the purchase of this property. Because this money is set aside exclusively for flood reduction mitigation, which includes relocating services and infrastructure impacted by the flood, the school system has to show that it is using the money specifically for services affected by the flood.
In the case of this project, two out of four services that are planned to be installed on the property — information technology and the board room — were impacted by the flood and warrant relocation.
“If you look at the footprint, we had some preliminary sketches, approximately half the property will be used to house those facilities that we wish to relocate,” Putnam told the board of education during a June 19 meeting. “Therefore, we’re eligible to use about $800,000, which is half the cost of the property, toward the purchase.”
The rest of the cost of the property purchase will come from the school’s capital fund balance which is generated through state sales tax. The school system uses the capital fund balance to pay off general obligation bonds on elementary schools built in the 1990s and early 2000s, to make repairs and complete small capital projects throughout the year. This pot of money cannot be used for operating expenses such as salaries.
The rest of the $2.5 million can be used on the buildings themselves and site work for the portion of the project that involves IT, as well as the board room.
The Smoky Mountain News previously reported that Rep. Mark Pless, R-Haywood, has advocated for moving school system operations in Clyde away from the Pigeon River where they currently stand.
Pless has said he’s seeking $20 million from the General Assembly for a replacement for Central Haywood High School, which used to occupy part of the site in Clyde, but that he’s not been asked for any money for the consolidation effort and doesn’t plan to ask House leadership for any right now.
According to Putnam, with the availability of space in the Central Elementary building, the school system is hesitant about expansion in the form of a new school building.
“With the mill closure and declining [average daily membership], we didn’t feel like an expansion at this time was prudent,” said Putnam. “We already have large enough, adequate class space for the enrollment that we have. So we didn’t really want to expand that until we could see if enrollment continued to decline and what impacts the mill might have.”
Putnam said that there is already enough classroom space for students enrolled at Central Haywood High School and that if IT were to move to the prospective Ratcliff Cove location, Central Haywood would have access to the entire campus.
To this point, the school system has worked with Civil Design Concepts to verify that the property is suitable for a building that could accommodate information technology infrastructure, as well as the boardroom, in addition to nutrition services and the bus garage and maintenance facility. Those plans are not exhaustive, and more design work will have to be done in the future. The board approved the acquisition unanimously.