Building new schools grabs all the headlines, but it’s the ongoing maintenance of existing schools that continues to weigh on the minds of Moore County officials.
Although the school district has its hands full with the ongoing construction of three new elementary schools and a massive expansion at North Moore High, it is concerned about keeping money flowing for upgrades at existing campuses.
That issue will be at the forefront Tuesday morning when the school district hosts Moore County commissioners on a tour of Carthage Elementary School, an older campus with a corresponding amount of upkeep issues due to its age.
Moore County Schools receives about $750,000 each year from the county commissioners specifically to chip away at a list of projects that ranges from replacing air conditioning units and maintaining communications networks to full roof replacements over more than 20 campuses. An additional $850,000 or so in lottery funding brings the district’s reliable cash flow for building maintenance to just over $1.6 million annually.
Taken individually, some of the county’s older campuses have needs that eclipse that number. Upgrades at Carthage Elementary, which include renovations to three classroom buildings and the gymnasium — would cost more than $6 million over the next five years if performed on schedule.
That’s why the Moore County Board of Commissioners have scheduled a tour of the school on Tuesday morning prior to its regular meeting at the Rick Rhyne Public Safety Center across the street.
Carthage Elementary currently serves around 400 students in kindergarten through fifth grade. Enrollment is expected to grow slightly over the next 10 years to reach the school’s capacity of 440.
“There are some repairs needed that are above and beyond just maintenance, and it’s probably a school that the Moore County Schools will do some work on,” said Frank Quis, chairman of the board of commissioners.
Thanks in large part to the sale of $103 million in bonds for three new elementary schools in a favorable lending environment, the county has about $15 million on hand from unexpected savings, earned interest and investor “rewards” that could be dedicated to some of the schools’ capital needs.
Meanwhile, the school board is striking a balancing act with what it has available for capital projects, which now amounts to about $1 million in unspent lottery funding. The schools will likely need at least that sum to cover cost overruns on the Aberdeen and Southern Pines school projects. In total, the construction contracts on the two schools came in at $3.3 million over budget, but their budgets included contingency funds to settle unforeseen expenses that may not arise.
The schools had $1.7 million in lottery funding available, but earlier this month the school board agreed to spend $750,000 to replace out-of-date and nearly obsolete computing infrastructure throughout the school district.
Board members noted that prioritizing that project, which supports classroom instruction at every grade level, will probably mean a delay in addressing other imminent needs in the schools. The total cost of that project is closer to $1.3 million, but almost half the cost will be covered by federal grants by starting it now.
At Carthage Elementary, meanwhile, Moore County Schools’ list of imminent building needs includes more than $400,000 in projects, including:
*$200,000 to replace piping in four buildings;
*$130,000 to replace the fire alarm system throughout the school;
*$52,000 to replace the heating, ventilation and air cooling system in Building 7; and
*$40,000 to replace rotted wooden building fascia and soffit around the gymnasium.
The county has been in a similar position previously. Before agreeing to put the school bond referendum to voters, the commissioners in 2017 toured the Aberdeen, Southern Pines and Pinehurst campuses that the bond-funded schools would replace. Soon after that tour, they allocated $200,000 from the county’s capital reserves to make urgent repairs at Aberdeen Primary while that school remained in service.
Carthage is nearly as old as Aberdeen Primary, though it has more recent additions and the schools plan to keep it in service for the foreseeable future.
“I don’t think the Carthage school is anywhere close to the poor condition that Aberdeen Primary was in,” said Quis. “We suggested that because it was convenient to tour the school the same day as one of our regular meetings, we let everybody take a look at the Carthage school’s condition.”