Macon receives $62 million grant for new high school
Macon County is one step closer to a new Franklin High School after state leaders awarded $62 million for the project.
“This is a project that we’ve worked on for a long time; we’re very excited about it,” said School Board Chairman Jim Breedlove. “It’s for the betterment of our children in Macon County, and there’s nothing more important than that as far as we’re concerned.”
On Jan. 23, Rep. Karl Gillespie (R-Macon), Sen. Kevin Corbin (R-Macon) and State Superintendent Catherine Truitt attended a joint meeting of the Macon County School Board and the Macon County Commission to award the funds.
The money comes from the Needs-Based Public School Capital Fund, awarded through the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction with revenue from the North Carolina Education Lottery. Grant funds are available to eligible counties for construction of new school buildings, additions, repairs and renovations of existing school facilities. Counties with an adjusted market value of taxable property of less than $40 billion are eligible to apply for a grant, meaning only seven counties in the state are excluded.
Generally speaking, it is the responsibility of county governments to pay for capital projects and the state to pay for employees, though there are some locally funded and federally funded positions within school systems. However, in the 1980s, the North Carolina state government began helping small, rural communities pay for capital projects. Now, that state aid has transformed into the Needs-Based Public School Capital Fund.
“We don’t get involved in local affairs,” said Corbin. “The decision to build a school is local, the decision to fund a school is local, we were not involved in that decision. But when you apply for a state grant that we had funded, you better believe that we’re going to be advocating for our counties.”
“It’s locally elected officials’ jobs to make local decisions. It’s our job to make sure that every day we bring 100% of available funding back to our district,” said Gillespie.
While Macon County has a 5% required local match for the grant, the county will likely be on the hook for much more. The entire cost of the new high school is estimated at around $100 million.
“I am so grateful to the General Assembly for making available this capital needs-based grant because we do have districts and counties that are in need of some extra help through the lottery funds that they are appropriating,” said Truitt during the joint meeting. “I think it’s important for everyone in this room to know how well-respected [Corbin and Gillespie] are in the legislature and how they fight very hard every session to make sure that the far west is recognized, that people know what’s happening in the far west and how the far west contributes to the economy of the rest of the state and that resources are coming to the far west because of these two men.”
Because there have been instances when counties have received the needs-based grant and then not been able to deliver on using the money for its intended project, part of Truitt’s trip was to determine community support for the project. While some commissioners have not been fully supportive of a new school, the board unanimously approved a memorandum of understanding in June that stipulated the county’s intent to use any funds received through the Needs-Based Public School Capital Fund for the new high school project. The purpose of the memorandum was to ensure elected representatives in the North Carolina General Assembly that Macon County would use grant funds for the new high school.
In order to show even broader community support for the project, representatives from the Chamber of Commerce attended the joint meeting last week, along with the mayors of both Franklin and Highlands.
“As stewards of Macon County resources, we as a chamber board often get asked about the educational facilities available in our area,” said Chamber President Matt Corbin. “The new high school project will benefit our community as a whole and encourage young families to look favorably at Macon County as a place to raise and educate their children.”
Franklin Mayor Jack Horton previously worked as Macon County Manager.
“The county has always been a big supporter of our school system. Through the years, we’ve done a lot of projects in the schools and so forth, but this is a tremendous project that’s been needed and well documented for a long time,” said Horton. “I applaud the Board of Education and the county commissioners and everyone together trying to make this project happen.”
Horton said that all six members of the Franklin Town Board are in support of the new high school, and that the town plans to adopt a resolution in support of the project.
While Highlands is home to one of the few K-12 schools left in the State of North Carolina, the mayor and fellow board members still showed their support for a new Franklin High School.
“We are here because we believe in the best interest of students,” said Highlands Mayor Patrick Taylor. “This will be a tremendous asset to this entire county and region to realize a new Franklin High School. We endorse this.”
Macon County has been working with LS3P design firm since the end of 2021 when the county solicited its services to assess the existing high school campus to evaluate needs and deficiencies. When weighing the merits of building a new school versus renovating the existing campus, LS3P found that it would be most efficient to build a new school, in part due to the number of separate buildings that make up the current campus.
The new school is designed for a capacity of around 1,400 students, which includes the consolidation with Bartram Academy Alternative High School.
“We think that is a real value add for this community because of the expansive amount of resources available to alternative high school students when they are on the Franklin High School campus,” said Emily Kite, architect with LS3P.
Plans for the new campus also include about 30 classrooms for the flourishing Career and Technical Education programs at FHS. The new campus will be entirely contained in one building which will help with ADA compliance and all-around safety. But there will also be an outdoor courtyard that allows students a place to be outside in a protected environment.
LS3P is currently in the last phase of its portion of the project, as architects are drawing up construction documents.
“Our hope is that our documents would be complete in time for construction to start sort of around that April to July window, depending on how everything lines up,” said Kite.
Following the brief presentation from LS3P, Truitt announced that Macon County would be the recipient of the $62 million grant, the most that can be awarded through the needs-based program for a new high school.
“This was a no-brainer, we could not be more excited to award you this grant,” said Truitt. “We know that the Franklin Panthers will be so excited to have their new school. Thank you to all of you who worked so hard.”
Corbin congratulated the county and the school system and said that credit was due to the fact that such a thorough plan was already in place for the school. Breedlove said that this had been a goal for the entire 15 years he has been a school board member.
“As superintendent of schools, I am a product of Macon County Schools,” said Superintendent Josh Lynch. “As I look to the future impact that this will have, I have my own kids who are in this great system, and they will be impacted by this, and their kids will be impacted by this, so we are grateful for the opportunity and I’m just thankful. Thank you so much.”