CHCCS Seeks Boost From BoCC For School Renovations

Chapel Hill-Carrboro school officials plan to ask county commissioners for three quarters of a million dollars to jump start planning for major renovations at three schools.

“We’re recommending that the board consider a request to county commissioners for $750,000 in planning money, to begin the process of designing the projects so that we’re shovel ready if and when the bond referendum occurs,” said Assistant Superintendent Todd LoFrese.

Administrators are hoping to delay the need for new schools by instead expanding some of the older, smaller schools in the district, but LoFrese told the board the timing of the renovations will be key.

“The intention behind this whole recommendation is to delay new schools,” said LoFrese. “We can only do that if we begin creating capacity now, because the district is going to grow and before you know it we’re going to be at a position where we’re unable to phase projects, unable to move forward with some of these capacity-building recommendations at our elementary schools specifically. It would basically be too late.”

County commissioners have begun discussing a possible bond package to help pay for the multi-million dollar plan, but that may not make it to the ballot until 2016.

The school board voted unanimously on Thursday to request $750,000 from the county to cover planning and design for three projects.

The money would pay for architectural design and preparation to expand Ephesus Elementary and Seawell Elementary, and renovate Lincoln Center to create a preschool facility.

If approved, the money would be an advance from county’s Capital Investment Plan. The school board will discuss the proposal at a joint meeting with county commissioners on April 29.

Orange BoCC Backs Off 2014 Bond Referendum

CHAPEL HILL- Both Orange County Schools and Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools are facing multi-million dollar repairs to fix up aging facilities, but Orange County Commissioners worry there’s not enough time to put together a $100 million dollar bond package before a September deadline to get it on the ballot for the General Election.

“I’m a little concerned that if we shoot for 2014 we’re not going to do a very good job of getting everything in place and take a chance that it will not pass,” said Board Vice-Chair Earl McKee.

He and fellow board members are also wary of taking up bond planning while the county is in the process of searching for a new manager, a search that’s taking longer than expected.

At a work session on Tuesday, commissioners expressed little interest in pushing to meet the deadline for a ballot measure this year, instead eyeing the timing of future referendums.

But some, including Mark Dorosin, worry rural residents would be disenfranchised if the county-wide bond went to the voters in 2015, when only municipal races are on the ballot.

“If you look back at the turnout for an “off” year versus an “on” year mid-term election, there’s more than 25 percent greater turnout,” said Dorosin.

Instead, commissioners said they’d consider May 2016, when turnout is expected to be high for the presidential and gubernatorial primaries, though the board did not rule out the possibility of putting the measure up for a vote next year.

Commissioners say they want input from staff on the timing and process of crafting a bond package, as well as more information from both school systems about what projects are top priorities.

The last bond referendum in 2001 netted the county an additional $75 million for school, parks, senior centers and housing. The proposed $100 million dollar bond would be the county’s largest in recent history. But even that would be a drop in the bucket, as the school districts’ combined list of repairs is estimated to be more than the county’s entire $192 million dollar annual operating budget.

Board Chair Barry Jacobs said voters should know the upcoming bond referendum could be the first of several.

“The needs are too big for one bond cycle, so we say that we’re going to have several bonds over a period of time to address several hundred million dollars worth of school needs for both systems,” said Jacobs.

The board will discuss creating a possible bond planning task force in the near future.

Meanwhile, the Chapel Hill Town Council is eyeing its own $20 million dollar bond package to replace or upgrade aging facilities. That measure could potentially go on the ballot in 2017.

CHCCS School Board Calls For SAPFO Review

CHAPEL HILL- Each year around this time, school officials sign off on the annual SAPFO report, which analyzes student enrollment and estimates the need for new facilities.

And although the school board on Thursday approved this year’s report without hesitation, board members agree that it may be time to review the way student generation rates are calculated.

Assistant Superintendent Todd LoFrese told the school board that recent projections have not been accurate, in part because new developments don’t fit the model currently in place.

“Some neighborhoods like Chapel Watch Village, Chapel Hill North, and the multi-family units at Winmore and Claremont- before they were completed they’d already exceeded the anticipated generation rates for new students,” said LoFrese.

SAPFO stands for Schools Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance. It’s an agreement between the school systems, towns and counties to use planning data on new residential development to project school enrollment before a permit is issued. If the projections exceed school capacity, SAPFO calls for a delay on construction until new facilities are in place.

But the decade-old ordinance is under fire from several directions. School officials in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro district are seeing higher than expected student generation rates from new apartment complexes, while Orange County officials say growth in Mebane is skewing their numbers, as the town is not a party to the SAPFO agreement.

And a recent N.C. Supreme Court ruling may take the teeth out of the ordinance, by prohibiting the towns from withholding permits to developers on the basis of SAPFO numbers.

With all this in mind, Chapel Hill-Carrboro School board members want the county to consider a study to review how the SAPFO ordinance is working.

A full review could cost as much as $100,000, while a report focused only on student generation rates would cost about $40,000.

Annetta Streater said it might be worth the cost to look at the bigger picture.

“Since both the districts are interested in trying to get more accurate information, I just wonder is it wise to go ahead and pursue a comprehensive study, versus just this one piece related to the student generation rates,” said Streater. “Given our past challenges in being able to use this data, to just extract one piece doesn’t really give us all that we need.”

Current SAPFO projections call for a new middle school for the Chapel Hill-Carrboro district in 2017, but LoFrese said if county commissioners decide to find the Culbreth science wing expansion this year, it will increase capacity and delay the need for a new school by two years.

Jamezetta Bedford reiterated the need for the expansion, saying the current classrooms are unacceptable.

“It’s not just an addition,” said Bedford. “There is no water in those rooms. They are inadequate spaces. They shouldn’t be called science labs; they’re just long hallway room that science is taught in.”

The county commissioners will consider funding for the Culbreth science wing at a budget work session on May 9th.

The SAPFO report will be forwarded to county commissioners for review later this month.