The Moore County Board of Education nearly sidelined an $8.4 million list of building priorities on Monday night over the question of where to rank a new Pinecrest High running track.
After 70 minutes of discussion and several failed motions on various iterations of the list, board members in a split vote approved it as Superintendent Bob Grimesey proposed earlier in the meeting — with the Pinecrest track project at the bottom of the 37-item priority scheme along with a new track for North Moore High.
Much of the projected funding for those building repair projects will be made available to Moore County Schools over the next year or so as the district sells off retired elementary school campuses and frees up “contingency” funds built into the construction budget for the three new elementary schools.
Athletes, Coaches Lobby for Track
Taken together, a total replacement of the Pinecrest High and North Moore tracks is projected to cost around $2.3 million, or just over one-fourth of the total.
An earlier version of the facilities plan that district administrators presented last week placed the Pinecrest project, at $1.3 million, at eighth in the overall ranking. Currently the track is off-limits for any athletic use due to erosion in the rubber surface and exposed cracks in the asphalt foundation.
The change in the project’s ranking among Moore County Schools’ short-term priorities means that instead of potentially being reopened for the spring of 2023, the Pinecrest track won’t be returned to full use until much later in that year or even until 2024.
At the beginning of Monday's meeting, Pinecrest head football coach Chris Metzger, track and field coach Michael Devine, senior JROTC instructor Col. John McDonald, one-time cross-country standout and former assistant coach Jef Moody, and current track and field runners Zack Gilbertson and Adrian Archer all called in to support a quick restoration of the track at John Williams Stadium. The meeting was held online and live streamed on YouTube, so all public comments were submitted by phone or email.
“Our track facility is an outdoor classroom that has literally been loved to death because it supports state-mandated physical education curriculums, students taking their first steps toward military service, our award-winning band program, and an entire portfolio of athletic teams at Pinecrest High School,” Devine said.
Board Debates Priorities
School board members were divided three ways when it came to prioritizing the project. In his recommendation to the board on Monday, Grimesey referred to feedback from board members Bob Levy and David Hensley when the school board initially reviewed the list on Feb. 1. Both have maintained that other needs on the list, like roof replacements at Cameron Elementary, Highfalls, Elise and North Moore, new heating at Robbins Elementary, and new sewer stations at Highfalls, New Century and West End should take precedence over athletic amenities.
“I think we heard some strong statements about aligning the two schools’ tracks together and I think there were some strong cases made that whatever $1 million item you might have that you put on this list, it’s going to create stress where a lot of your money ends up going to that project and then deprives projects at multiple other schools of benefit,” Grimesey said.
But on Monday board Chair Libby Carter and members Stacey Caldwell and Ed Dennison were in favor of adopting the list as proposed on Feb. 1, with the Pinecrest track higher in the priority scheme. The track at North Moore, also slated for a complete replacement, remains in serviceable condition. That track has six lanes to Pinecrest’s eight, and is projected to cost $943,000 to replace.
“I am very much in favor of doing things that will directly affect, in a good way, our students. I know we have other things that need to be done, but our students are our top priority,” Dennison said. “I don’t think fixing a pipe is going to be best for all our students, directly, unless it breaks or something.”
Thompson pointed out that funding beyond the first $2 million or so of the proposed priorities is not yet assured. Moving Pinecrest’s track to the bottom of the list moves steam boiler and water heater replacements at Cameron, Sandhills Farm Life, Vass-Lakeview, Pinckney, Elise and Southern Middle into that range, along with the installation of a sewer lift station at West End and new heat pumps at Robbins.
Hensley: Towns Should Help Foot Bill
Levy moved to amend Caldwell’s initial motion to adopt the earlier plan, and thereby consider Grimesey’s latest recommendation. Levy’s motion passed with support from Hensley and board members Philip Holmes and Pam Thompson.
But before the board could actually vote on the amended motion and thereby adopt a version of the plan with both tracks at 36th and 37th on the list, Hensley moved to further amend the motion to remove the Pinecrest track entirely.
Hensley pointed out that, in light of Moore County Schools’ extensive portfolio of deferred maintenance needs beyond the items up for consideration Monday, funding that might be used for the track could easily be reallocated to other projects.
“Many of the unfixed issues impact the quality of education and the health and safety of our students, faculty and staff,” he said.
So he suggested that since the track has previously been open for public use, the board remove the Pinecrest track from the list for up to six months to explore alternative funding sources — namely, the towns of Southern Pines, Pinehurst and Aberdeen.
“Since individuals use it free of charge, I’m going to suggest that we temporarily remove the Pinecrest track from the list of priorities and we enter into discussions and negotiations with the surrounding communities, that those municipalities pay for two-thirds of the cost of the track,” said Hensley.
Hensley’s motion to amend the motion to that effect received a second from Holmes.
‘Everyone Wants to Poke at Pinecrest’
“It seems to me like every time we sell a school, we decide to buy something new and shiny,” said Holmes. “I just wonder why everything new and shiny goes to Pinecrest.”
But when it came to a vote, Holmes voted with the rest of the board against removing the project from the list entirely.
“As we talk through this list of all these different items, everyone seems to want to poke at Pinecrest. I just want to remind our board members that one-sixth of all the children who attend Moore County Schools go to Pinecrest,” said Carter. “I think we’ve heard very convincingly that the track at Pinecrest is an essential part of the programming at Pinecrest, both within academic classes, within physical education classes, and within sports programs.”
That left the board with Levy’s motion to adopt the plan as Grimesey recommended, which failed when Hensley voted against it along with Carter, Dennison and Caldwell.
Hensley, Grimesey Trade Barbs
Hensley suggested that the board may have been able to arrive at a clearer consensus had board members been offered an unranked list of $12 million or $15 million in priorities, and decided for themselves which ones would make the cut.
“We presented to you from the complete list of all projects, that which we felt was of high priority, but also fit some practical pattern of projects that could be accomplished in the next 18 months,” Grimesey said.
“If the board prefers to do the work itself and take the whole plan, then I’ll be happy to plan another all-day work session, we’ll take the whole thing, and the administration will sit and take notes while the school board does the administration’s job for it.”
At that point Dennison moved to sideline the list entirely, while Levy moved to compromise by placing both tracks toward the middle of the proposed list at 18th and 19th. Both of those motions were withdrawn after Dennison indicated that he might reconsider supporting the list as proposed in order to give district staff some framework to begin planning.
“How much of a difference would it make, the Pinecrest track being where it is now or the Pinecrest track being in what Dr. Grimesey recommended, as far as the track being completed?” Dennison asked.
“The bottom line is it’s not going to make any difference where Pinecrest is on there, as far as really having it done, since you can do some preliminary work on the track before we actually have the money to do the whole thing.”
Dennison’s motion to reconsider the proposal passed by a 4-3 vote with support from Levy, Holmes and Thompson.
“In terms of funding, I see a bright future and I believe we will be able to do the track. I just believe we need hot water heaters, and we need to make sure that our students don’t freeze in the northern part of the county before we build that track over at Pinecrest,” Levy said.