Camp Easter Road School Site Conceptual Plan

A conceptual master plan showing the future site of a new elementary school in Southern Pines.

Moore County has already begun the process of securing a loan for construction of a new elementary school on Camp Easter Road, but a hearing this week will help gauge the public’s level of support for incurring that debt.

Last month, the commissioners gave a unanimous go-ahead to apply to the Local Government Commission to finance the school project, agreeing to apply for up to $31 million. While the 800-student elementary school is estimated to cost $30.8 million, Moore County Schools will not have a firm cost until contractors submit their bids to build the school at the end of this month.

The Local Government Commission, under the North Carolina state treasurer’s office, has the final say when county and municipal governments seek to incur debt for capital and other projects. In addition to the county’s ability to repay the debt, the LGC also takes into account the level of community support for the proposed project.

The county commissioners will hold a public hearing on the school project and its financing on Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. at the historic courthouse in Carthage. No action is expected; the public hearing is merely an avenue by which the LGC can judge the community’s level of endorsement for the project.

Known as the “Area I” school, the project is the first of several that Moore County Schools hopes to open in the next four years for the benefit of students now attending crowded or aging schools on the southern end of the county. This first school will serve students in parts of Whispering Pines, Vass and Southern Pines now attending the Sandhills Farm Life and Vass-Lakeview elementary schools.

Combined, those two schools are serving more than 200 students over the number for which they were designed. Farm Life carries the brunt of the crowding, but they each have half a dozen modular classrooms on their campuses. The new school, planned for a 2019 opening, would absorb the overflow and then some, to allow all three schools to continue accommodating growth in the area associated primarily with families connected to the military.

By the end of the month the schools are expected to close on a 36-acre school site, part of the property known as the Knollwood Tract on the outskirts of Southern Pines.

In addition to the $200,000 purchase price, which covers the value of five acres with Knollwood donating the rest, the schools are responsible for paying $1.5 million to extend water and sewer lines to the site. That infrastructure will also serve development planned between Camp Easter Road and U.S. 1 in the next few years. The first phase of development involves a 100-lot subdivision on 52 acres south of the school site.

The county could finance the project in one of two ways: either through a direct loan from a private financial institution or through what are known as limited obligation bonds sold by the LGC on the county’s behalf. Private banks could offer more favorable financing terms than the county would command through public financing.

In December, the county will submit its application to finance the school project to the Local Government Commission and decide which financing avenue to pursue. That should put the application on track for a decision in early January.

Also in December, the school board is expected to consider contractors’ bids for the project and vote to award a contract pending LGC approval. If financing is approved, the county could finalize the loan in mid-January.

The schools would then be able to enter a formal contract with a builder and begin construction of the school for completion in May 2019. 

There is plenty of other school construction proposed, but its status will not become clearer until May. The school board is reviewing a bond resolution requesting to borrow $103 million to fund three new 800 student K-5 schools serving Aberdeen, Southern Pines and Pinehurst. The resolution would need voters’ approval, which tentatively could come in the May primary vote.

The new Aberdeen and Southern Pines schools could open in August 2020 to replace the existing K-2 and 3-5 schools, which are among the oldest in the district.

The Aberdeen schools went nearly a decade without maintenance before this summer, when the county elected to use $200,000 for cosmetic upgrades at Aberdeen Primary to improve the atmosphere until that school is replaced.

Like Farm Life and Vass-Lakeview, Pinehurst Elementary is also accommodating rapid growth in its student population with modular classrooms. A new school to replace it could follow the Southern Pines and Aberdeen schools in 2021.

The school board is considering adding several smaller projects to the proposal.

The timeline for all those additional schools getting underway depends on the Area I school proceeding on schedule to open in August 2019.

Contact Mary Kate Murphy at (910) 693-2479 or mkmurphy@thepilot.com.

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