CHCCS Board Approves 10-Year Plan for School Repair and Maintenance

Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools seeks funds from Orange County every year to pay for costly repairs and maintenance. At Thursday’s school board meeting, school officials talked about making difficult choices with finite funds from the county.

“We know we’re pushing back critical needs further and further. You guys remember we had the heat issue at Estes Hills,” said Assistant Superintendent Todd LoFrese. “We pushed off replacing the boiler 10 years in our plan, and it came back and bit us and we had problems last year at Estes.”

At the meeting, the board approved a capital investment plan that lists major projects, estimated at $15.9 million over the next five years. These costs align with the county’s projected funds for the school district. But the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools district may not recieve all the money it wants.

“We’ve had a terrible, terrible last six or seven years,” said School Facilities Director William Mullin. “You’ll remember over the last decade we’ve added three schools, mobile classrooms and additions. We grow and our capital plan is being badly, badly hurt.”

Orange County Commissioners will divide 2015-16 funds between Orange County Schools and Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools in the summer.

Among other projects, in 2015-16 CHCCS officials want a cooling tower replacement, light fixture replacements and classroom upgrades.

CHCCS board members also hope commissioners will put a $125 million bond on the ballot in 2016 to pay for additional expenses. The proposed bond would be the largest in Orange County history and would add an estimated 4.67 cents on the property tax rate.

“We’re making some choices right now in what our priorities are based on the expectation that this is going to happen,” said Board Member Michelle Brownstein on planning for the bond.

The district would like the extra funds to help pay for new buildings and school expansions to meet increases in student enrollment at an estimated cost of $214 million over ten years. The funds would also help pay the estimated $91 million in other maintenance costs over the next ten years.

BoCC Seeks Revised Cost Estimate For Southern Branch Library

Story originally posted April 11, 2014, 5:02 p.m.

As Orange County Commissioners eyed their five-year spending plan at a work session on Thursday, Chair Barry Jacobs said it’s time for the board to vote on the specifics of the Southern Branch Library.

“We’re talking about $8.2 million dollars and I don’t think that’s a realistic number for what we’re envisioning as a library,” said Jacobs. “I don’t know why we keep using that number.”

The 2014-19 recommended  Capital Investment Plan outlines $1.1 million to be spent on planning in the next two years, and $7,775,000 to build and open the branch by 2017, but Jacobs argued those numbers represent a size and style of library that the board has not endorsed.

“If we’re not going to build a 20,000 square foot library, then we don’t need to fund one,” said Jacobs. “If we have to vote, then we should put it on a regular agenda and vote on whether this board of commissioners thinks we’re building a 20,000 square foot library. Because it was not driven by this board, it was driven by staff. It’s just not realistic.”

Currently, county officials are in the process of vetting an 18,000 square foot site in Carrboro, at the yet-to-be-built Brewer Lane mixed-use project. Although this is the only site under consideration, the board has not settled on a location for the branch, and is actively soliciting input from the public.

County Manager Michael Talbert said the $8 million dollar figure represents a place-holder in the budget that will be revised by the end of the fiscal year.

“This is the best number we have at this point. The board has not revisited this issue since it was originally introduced about three years ago,” said Talbert. “We’re continuing this in light of not having anything better. By this June we may be in a position to improve on this. If the Carrboro location we’re investigating works out, we can come back to you and adjust these numbers.”

Jacobs said once the cost projections are revised, that will free up other money in the county’s spending plan. The board will hear the results of the county’s investigation and the public outreach effort at a work session on May 13.

CHCCS Facing $45 Million In Unfunded School Repairs

CHAPEL HILL- The Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools board approved a 10-year spending plan on Thursday totaling $16.8 million, but members acknowledged the Capital Investment Plan does not include an estimated $87 million in unfunded needs, including $45 million worth of basic repairs to the district’s 10 oldest schools.

William Mullin, Executive Director of School Facilities, told the board that $45 million would bring the aging schools up to current safety and accessibility standards, but would not increase student capacity.

Without modifying existing schools to add room for more students, administrators estimate the district will need a new elementary and middle school by 2020, at a projected cost of $80 million.

Mullin told commissioners the district is receiving about $800,000 annually from the quarter cent sales tax approved by voters in 2011. Half of that is earmarked for technology needs, the rest for repairing older schools. While that will add up approximately $8.8 million by 2024, Mullin said it is not nearly enough to address the district’s needs.

The school board will discuss aging facilities and school capacity at its planning retreat on Tuesday. Administrators will present the capital plan to the Board of County Commissioners later this month.

CHTC Sets Priorities For 2014 And Beyond

CHAPEL HILL- The Chapel Hill Town Council met with the town’s senior management team this weekend to prioritize policy goals based on the Chapel Hill 2020 comprehensive plan.

Council members agreed on the need for more affordable housing, new youth initiatives, a sustainable funding model for Chapel Hill Transit and a long-term solid waste solution.

Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt said within 18 months the Council will be ready to decide what to do with the town’s trash.

“The staff really wants this decision made,” said Kleinschmidt. “There are on-going conversations with Orange County, with Carrboro and with the City of Durham about how we can cooperate. Now, maybe all those jurisdictions don’t come together, but there’s some secret match of jurisdictions that can come together to provide those solutions. We don’t know what that’s going to be yet.”

Currently the town pays to haul trash to Durham since the Orange County landfill has closed, but staffers say the town should explore the possibility of building and operating a waste transfer station on town-owned land, a project that could cost $5.1 million.

One of the biggest challenges facing the town is the need to replace or upgrade town facilities and infrastructure.

Business Management Director Ken Pennoyer laid out more than $100 million dollars in capital needs to be financed over the next two decades, including a new police station, four fire stations and completion of the parks master plan.

“We have a fairly significant wish list and needs list of projects that we need to accomplish within the next twenty years, so balancing that is a difficult challenge,” said Pennoyer.

The Council will consider planning for a $20 million bond referendum to go on the ballot in 2017.

In addition, Council members discussed the need for increased economic development, enhanced code enforcement and a town-wide stormwater master plan.

The new policy goals will guide the Town Manager as he crafts next year’s spending plan. Budget negotiations will begin later this spring.

Commissioners To Approve 2013-14 Budget, Capital Investment Plan

ORANGE COUNTY – County Commissioners will sign off on a new budget and five year capital investment plan when the board meets Tuesday.

After weeks of negotiation and public hearings that drew dozens of residents to plead for more school funding, commissioners will finalize a spending plan that maintains the current property tax rate while digging into reserve funds to give more money to schools.

The budget also calls for the Chapel Hill-Carrboro special district tax rate to increase by two cents to provide $ 2 million dollars to open the new Northside Elementary.

The plan includes money for new EMS personnel and technology upgrades, and sets aside a quarter of a million dollars for the Social Justice Fund, designed to lessen the impact of state cuts to social programs.

The board meets at 7:00 p.m. in the Southern Human Services Center on Homestead Road.


OC Residents Voice Concern Over County’s Building Plans

CHAPEL HILL- While many are focused on next year’s school budget, members of Orange County Voice are looking ahead to the county’s long-term building plans.

At a public hearing on Thursday, Orange County Voice President Bonnie Hauser asked the board to rethink the list of projects in the county’s $172 million dollar five-year capital investment plan.

“We fear that the county is too focused on new buildings, new campuses and new facilities and there’s not enough attention on the the quality and effectiveness of services,” said Hauser.

She critiqued both the $6.5 million dollar expansion of the Southern Human Services Center planned for 2016, and next year’s $1.5 million dollar renovation to the Whitted Building to provide a permanent meeting space for local governments.

“We’re hearing way too much from architects and designers, and not enough from the major stakeholders and experts on the ground including the professionals, the agencies, the schools, and the everyday users of the county services,” said Hauser. “We ask you to change the way the county plans for our future and make service, not buildings, a priority.”

Marilee McTigue argued in favor of improving cooperation between the Chapel Hill and Orange County library systems before the county invests $7 million dollars to build a library just a few miles away from Chapel Hill’s.

“So the question needs to be asked, should we make significant investments in library facilities, just because it’s been difficult to work with Chapel Hill?” asked McTigue. “What about the rural residents need for library services, many of whom travel more than 15 miles to get to a library. How will there needs be met, and where will the money come from?”

In both cases, Orange County Voice members asked the board to consider creating stakeholder work groups to assess community needs before committing funding to the projects.

The board also heard from those seeking funding for a variety on nonprofits. Northside resident Keith Edwards said Habitat for Humanity’s Brush with Kindness program has proved invaluable in her neighborhood. Volunteers helped repair her house in May.

“The experience was amazing. I know sooner or later I’m going to break down in tears of joy, because I’ve been asking God, ‘Why me?’” said Edwards. “I had a choice between getting dental work done or fixing my house. I chose the dental work, didn’t know how I was going to fix my house, and God blessed me with a brush of kindness.”

Representatives from the Carrboro ArtsCenter and the Marian Cheek Jackson Center also made their case for funding to support children’s programing and neighborhood preservation.

Commissioners will continue budget deliberations at a work session next Thursday at the Southern Human Services Center on Homestead Road.