Commission to block school central office? - WBTV 3 News, Weather, Sports, and Traffic for Charlotte, NC

Commission to block school central office?

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SALISBURY, NC (WBTV) -

Hopes are high in Salisbury for a big downtown building project, at least for now.

Tuesday night dozens of people packed a city council meeting to urge the council to go ahead with building an $8.3 million dollar three story building to house the school system's central office. But while there is a lot of enthusiasm about the project, there also may be one big hurdle yet to cross.

In downtown Salisbury on Wednesday where an annual sales promotion is underway, the thought of nearly two hundred jobs moving here is pretty exciting.

"With that many people there who will want to get out during the lunch hour and just walk up the street," said Karen Jones while setting up a display at Queen's Gifts.   "We're in a great location for them to stop in and do a little shopping."

"I think it's going to boom our downtown," said Salisbury Mayor Paul Woodson.  "Can you imagine putting 190 more people in our downtown every single day?"

As a city councilman and now as mayor, Woodson has spent more than a decade trying to help pull together a new central office for the school system.  Right now the school system has about a half dozen buildings that house various administrative offices, and they are mostly old school buildings in various states of repair.

They hope to consolidate everything in a new building that would be bult on the 300 block of S. Main Street.  On Tuesday night the City Council voted to go forward with working to secure a loan to build the $8.3 million structure.

It would go next to another new building going up now. It's the headquarters for Integro, a technology company that will relocate about thirty jobs to the downtown office.

The hope is that these projects will spur more development in the area.  Architect and Rowan County Building Codes and Zoning head Pete Bogle says the Empire Hotel is an example of the potential.

"The Empire is the greatest renovation challenge facing downtown Salisbury right now, but it's also the project with the greatest potential impact on the whole downtown," Bogle told WBTV.  "When finished, this old gem will host 70 to 90 boutique hotel rooms, a large fine dining restaurant, several retail storefronts, and the 2,500 square foot formal ballroom that's been quietly tucked away from view for more than half a century (yes, it's still there!). With the activity, jobs, and publicity it will generate, there's no question that the Empire Hotel will become Salisbury's new signature piece.

Mayor Woodson agreed that spurring future development is one of the main reasons the city is backing the project.

"I think when people drive through Salisbury and see these two beautiful buildings in our south end of town, they're going to recognize that Salisbury is on the move. We're a progressive city, we're going to do well for education, we're going to do well for the entire community," Woodson told WBTV.

And while last night's meeting generated a lot of excitement, there is some concern that county commissioners may have the last say and may not go along with the project.

"I think for the first time in my ten years of working on this there is a real possibility that we can get this done, I just hope the county commissioners will see the positive impact for our entire community and for our entire education system for Rowan County and hope they'll stand with us and let this go through," Woodson said.

But will a vote be necessary from the commissioners?  WBTV put that question to Commissioner Jon Barber, who spoke in favor of the project at the Tuesday night meeting.

"If the annual lease amount between the City and Board of Education is over $500,000 then it has to come before the Board of Commissioners, and/or if the lease agreement between the City and Board of Education is longer than 5 years then it has to come before the Board of Commissioners," Barber wrote in an email reply to WBTV.

"Since the City of Salisbury is seeking a loan under the benefits of economic development, and since the loan will be paid with the school systems state sales tax money and not city or county taxes, then it appears it will not have to come back before the Board of Commissioners unless the City and the Board of Education come up with an agreement that meets one or both of the criteria above. If so, then the LGC will require the Board of Commissioners to have a public hearing and vote to support the agreement."

If approval by the Rowan County Commission is a requirement, would they automatically kill the project?  WBTV asked Rowan County Commission Chairman Jim Sides.

"I read the same articles in the newspaper that you do," Sides replied in an email that is published here unedited.  "I keep reading that the Salisbury financial people have worked out a plan with the Local Government Commission that will not require county commission approval."

 "The schools can enter into a maximum 5 year lease for a maximum cost of $500,000.00 per year without county commission approval."

"To my knowledge, there is NO way they can commit to a 20 year lease purchase plan in any form without county commission approval."

"I cannot speak for the other commissioners, but I do not believe there are three votes to approve any plan presented to the commissioners, should one come before us."

"You do understand," Sides continued, "that political pressures do cause people to change their minds."

"I will not vote to spend any county funds for a central office until some of the schools current debt is retired. I FULLY recognize the need for a central office. I do not agree with the downtown location and will never vote for the office to be built there."

In February the commissioners voted to reject $6 million that it had agreed to give the school board the year before for the construction of a central office building.

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