To build or not

Published 6:56 pm Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Hardy, Westside decision by December?

By Diana McFarland

Managing editor

Isle of Wight’s newly formed capital improvement plan committee wants to wrap up by December the details on whether to renovate or rebuild Hardy and Westside elementary schools, as well as the county’s approach to the bond market in light of other needs.  

The committee met Sept. 9 and included Isle of Wight County School Board Chairperson Vicky Hulick and schools Superintendent Jim Thornton. The committee also includes Smithfield District Supervisor Dick Grice and Board of Supervisors Chairman William McCarty, as well as county staff. 

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The Board appears to be leaning toward building a new Hardy Elementary School and recently gave the go-ahead to do an evaluation of Westside Elementary to determine whether renovations will suffice or if it also needs to be rebuilt. That evaluation is expected to take 45-60 days. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

Hardy and Westside are the county’s two oldest school buildings and suffer from a long list of issues, from mold to a too-small gymnasium.            

Meanwhile, the committee asked Jimmy Sanderson with Davenport to run debt service schedules based on today’s bond interest rates, and county staff to collect capital projects pending in other departments by the next meetings, Oct. 28. 

Thornton said his staff is looking at school prototypes that can be used in Isle of Wight rather than designing entirely new buildings. Florence Bowser Elementary School in Suffolk is one possibility, said Thornton. 

The two-story school with a capacity for 1,000 students was built for $21 million, and that did not include furnishings, he said. 

Using building prototypes is not uncommon. 

For example, Smithfield Middle School, built in 2005, was based on Kings Fork Middle School, said Isle of Wight schools spokesperson Lynn Briggs. 

Georgie D. Tyler Middle School, completed in 2014, was based on Wilson Middle School in Augusta County, although there were quite a few design changes on that one, said Briggs.

During the meeting, Grice said the county also needs to find out if land is available next to Hardy Elementary — necessary if the county wants the school to remain onsite and open while a new one is built. 

One concern is the impact of borrowing money on taxpayers. Grice estimated that for every $87 million borrowed, the cost to cover the debt service is 1-cent in the real estate tax rate. 

Sanderson provided a schedule for debt service amounts based on a 4 to 4.5 percent interest rate, but said they are running at about 2-3 percent right now. The schedule was based on a bond issue in early 2020, he said.

If Isle of Wight borrowed $65 million for two new schools, the current working estimate, the debt service for that and existing debt would balloon to $16.4 million a year from 2025-27. That amount does not include new debt for any other projects. 

Grice said that if other projects were added to the mix, such as a new bus garage, the county would have to be “incredibly frugal during that time.” Grice estimated that the tax rate could go up $10 cents to cover it all. 

Currently, the real estate tax rate is $85-cents per $100 in assessed value. 

Sanderson said many localities are moving forward with borrowing in order to lock in the low rates. 

With the 2020 election looming, the market tends to get “crazy,” he said. 

Sanderson estimated that the county could obtain the bond issues within 60 days of approval by the Board of Supervisors.    {/mprestriction}