Thursday, December 15, 2005

Columbus Schools Need Cash

From News Reporter

Monday, December 12, 2005

School cost is staggering

The cost to build new schools and renovate old ones in Columbus County is simply staggering.

Consider this: five schools need to be replaced now at a cost of $60 million in today’s dollars. Each of these is more than 50 years old.

If money were saved to replace one school per year every five years, which would entail putting aside at least $2 million to $5 million a year, it would be 2035 before the last school could be replaced (and that’s in today’s dollars, not 2035 dollars).

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. In addition to the $60 million needed today to replace five schools, another $90 million would be needed in today’s dollars for renovations and additions.

None of this includes needs in the Whiteville school district.

Columbus County is fortunate in one respect in that its school population isn’t growing like it is in many counties. Even wealthy counties like Wake have placed thousands of students in trailers because these counties can’t build enough schools to keep up with growth.

On the downside, Columbus County is nearly 1,000 square miles big, the third largest in the state, which means that more schools are needed (19 in the county and five in the city) to keep students reasonably close to their schools.

Even though the amount of work to be done in the county schools is massive, there’s no time like the present to develop a plan for capital improvements.

First, money should be set aside by the county commissioners each year to deal with school construction. That’s not going to be pleasant – we’re talking tax increases here. The lottery isn’t going to put a big dent in the capital projections of the state’s schools when the profits from it are spread over 100 counties.

Second, the county school board may need to take a hard look at consolidating some schools. That’s never appealing because smaller, community schools tend to get better support and involvement from the communities they are in, and, time has proven that mega-schools may not serve students’ needs well.

Yet, unless plans are made to set aside funding for schools’ capital needs now, the crisis may prove to be insurmountable. Rash, unappealing options may be the only ones left.

Looking at the figures provided last week, that may nearly already be the case now.

posted by David at 12:54 AM :: Permalink ::

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