New funding source needed for central office renovation

Published 5:27 pm Friday, September 15, 2023

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

A $600,000-plus deficit from the prior school year is one of two financial crises facing Isle of Wight County’s School Board.

The other entails finding a new source of funding to pay for saving and repurposing two wings of the circa-1961 Hardy Elementary School.

Site plans from 2021 for the recently completed two-story replacement Hardy that now stands adjacent to its predecessor had called for saving the old school’s gymnasium wing. The school division’s plans, as of earlier this year, called for saving an additional wing added in the early 1980s to create an L-shaped building that would house a climate-controlled warehouse for student records and the division’s central office.

The School Board had voted to move forward with the renovation in December after Superintendent Theo Cramer told board members the work could be done at no additional cost to local taxpayers by using state funds earmarked for school construction.

According to School Board Vice Chairman Jason Maresh, roughly $735,000 of the $2.3 million school construction state grant the division received was put toward costs associated with the new Hardy, the largest of which was a $405,000 gas line upgrade. According to County Administrator Randy Keaton, these costs weren’t covered by the $36.8 million guaranteed maximum price the county approved in 2021.

“We voted to approve rehabbing the newest portion of old Hardy and now we don’t have the money to do it,” Maresh told county supervisors at a Sept. 7 joint meeting of the two boards. “We made a promise that we can no longer keep to the taxpayers.”

Deputy Superintendent Christopher Coleman contends it still makes sense to proceed with saving the 1980s wings of old Hardy, despite the funding issue, as it will allow the division to abandon the deteriorating modular central office behind Westside Elementary while foregoing the expense of building a brick-and-mortar central office from the ground up. The county’s capital improvements plan calls for a $2 million central office to be built near the county’s courthouse between fiscal years 2028 and 2032.

The modular central office, which dates to 2004, “isn’t going to last much longer,” Coleman said.

“We’re on borrowed time,” Cramer added.

The renovation of the old Hardy, Coleman said, will also save the division the money it would otherwise need to spend on building a detached warehouse for financial and student records.

Since 2018, the division has leased non-climate-controlled warehouse space at nearly $4,500 per month. Isle of Wight County Schools, as of January, had received quotes ranging from $700,000 to $1.5 million to build a detached warehouse, depending on whether it was climate controlled.

The supervisors and School Board each named representatives to an intergovernmental committee tasked with identifying an alternate source of funding for the Hardy central office project. Supervisors Dick Grice and Rudolph Jefferson will represent their board, while Maresh and board member Denise Tynes will represent the School Board.

The supervisors and School Board each stated emphatically that the committee’s purpose would be to identify a source of funding, if needed, for the Hardy central office project, and not reevaluate whether to proceed with the work. Demolition of the old Hardy, save for the two wings slated to be saved, is to begin this week starting with abatement of asbestos in the 1960s wings, according to Coleman.

School division officials had estimated the cost of renovating the two wings of the old Hardy at $1.3 million in January. In the event the cost estimate remains accurate and no further depletion of the $2.3 million grant occurs, there may still be enough money in the roughly $1.5 million remainder to cover the work.

Grice intends for the committee to complete its work prior to Dec. 31, which will be his last day in office, as he isn’t running for reelection.

The Sept. 7 joint meeting of the two boards did not include any further discussion of the 2022-23 school year’s deficit, of which $512,448 remains. The supervisors voted in August to retroactively add an unexpected $90,715 increase in sales tax revenue to the school division’s 2022-23 budget, but not the full $603,163 Cramer had requested.