School capital projects urged as construction cost rise

Concerned about rising construction costs, the Moore County Board of Education is accelerating its plan to spend $17.5 million to modernize six elementary school gymnasiums. The discussion came at their all-day work session on Monday. Formal approval is expected at the next regular meeting on Nov. 8. 

Citing shortages of materials and labor that have seen project costs increase, school officials urged board members to move ahead with improvement plans without delay. If approved by the board, up first will be Cameron, Highfalls and Westmoore Elementary Schools within the next six to eight months. Sandhills Farm Life would follow, depending on the level of available funds remaining.   

That would leave Vass-Lakeview and Carthage Elementary schools off the list for now. That could change if school officials can persuade the county for additional bond money. No mention was made of using money from the state lottery funds, or proceeds from the pending sale of the old Southern Pines Primary or Aberdeen Elementary.

School Superintendent Dr. Bob Grimesey told the board that the gymnasium at Carthage Elementary was scheduled last on the list because the entire school is high on the priority list for modernization or replacement. 

Part of the money to fund the capital projects will come from the American Rescue Plan, also known as the COVID-19 Stimulus Package. According to the federal guidelines, money can be used to upgrade HVAC systems, install ventilation systems, replace windows and install new plumbing. The school district plans to use $3 million in federal funding as part of the gymnasium modernization project.

Another $8.6 million will come from bond money previously approved by the Moore County Commissioners. An additional $5.9 million would need to be approved by Moore County Commissioners if all six school gyms are to be modernized, according to school officials.   

“I know we are coming up short on money, but it is still good news to know that we might be able to afford to forge ahead and get started on the first three within the very near future,” said Chair Libby Carter at the meeting. “It is disappointing that costs continue to rise.”

Board member Robert Levy said, “Let’s get it done already.”

School gym improvements are not new. In 2020, an auxiliary gym at North Moore High School was opened at a cost of $12.9 million. That cost also included new classrooms. In 2013, gyms were built at Pinecrest and Union Pines.

Future Meetings Locations

The Central Office in Carthage will continue to be the location of board meetings, despite a school auditorium as proposed by Levy. In making the recommendation, Levy said he wanted a location that could accommodate everyone that wanted to attend. The measure failed to gain a majority, with Levy, Holmes and Hensley in favor, and Carter, Thompson Dennison and Caldwell opposed.  

Dr. Gimesey recommended not to hold meetings away from the Central Office, citing concerns raised by Moore County Schools Police Chief Arthur Frye. 

In September, an anonymous threat against school board members caused a meeting at West Pine Elementary to be rescheduled to another location. The month before, a school board meeting at Union Pines High School was marked with boos, sign-waving and jeers that had to be controlled by school police as the board considered extending a mask-wearing policy.

The use of metal detectors have recently been used at board meetings to screen those that enter the building.

Mental Health Day Nov. 12

Moore County Schools is considering following other school districts in North Carolina by declaring Nov. 12 a ‘mental health’ day for students and teachers. “The idea of a day off for everybody is not out of the question. It’s just how you do it,” said Grimesey. School leaders will be meeting to decide if the idea should be presented to the board. 

Sandhills_Sentinel~Written by Sandhills Sentinel Reporter John Patota.

Feature photo by Sandhills Sentinel Photographer Melissa Schaub.

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