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Nash commissioners freeze funding for new elementary school

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NASHVILLE — Nash County commissioners on Monday put a hard hold on all funding for a new elementary school in the Red Oak area until the Nash-Rocky Mount Board of Education demonstrates a “spirit of cooperation” the county board has not yet seen.

After a lengthy closed session following a routine monthly meeting, commissioners unanimously voted to “inform” the school board that commissioners “have not established a capital budget ordinance to build a new elementary school.”

Commissioners will establish such an ordinance, the board said, “at such time as the school board agrees to work together with this Board of Commissioners in a spirit of cooperation to build the best school possible, utilizing the talents of both boards to do what is best for our children and for the taxpayers of Nash County.”

The board’s decision to put a pause on spending a projected $20 million on the proposed school followed a surprise decision by the school board on Jan. 9 to hire a project management firm against the wishes of commissioners, who told school officials it was an unnecessary expense.

The school system wants to close Swift Creek, Cedar Grove and Red Oak elementary schools and replace them with one elementary school in the same general area. But interim school superintendent Del Burns, a retired Wake County superintendent, recommended the system hire a project management firm, Cumming Corp., to oversee the project at a cost of up to $622,429.

The commissioners at their November meeting announced they opposed hiring any project management firm and would not pay for one. They argued that that the traditional practice of combining existing county resources and an architectural firm was more effective and less costly, especially for just one school, rather than adding another layer of management.

The school board and county board held a joint meeting in December, when commissioners detailed their objections and urged the school board to work with the county on major decisions with the new school. The boards discussed forming a joint committee to work on school construction moving forward.

But no action has been taken on forming a joint committee and the school board at its Jan. 9 meeting unanimously moved instead to hire Cumming Program Management, at a cost not to exceed $167,000, to provide initial management services through the bidding phase of the school and to request reimbursement of the funds from the county.

County board Chairman Robbie Davis said after Monday’s meeting that commissioners were unhappy that the school board had moved ahead with hiring the management firm against the county’s wishes and not formed a joint committee of school board members and commissioners as the county expected.

“We’ve asked the school board numerous times to establish a committee and start meeting to build a school, and that meeting has not happened yet,” he said.

“They seem to be taking an approach (that) they don’t want any advice from the commissioners on helping them build a school even though we’ve got the ability to help them quite a bit,” he said. “We know they get the final call on things, but they certainly ought to use the talent that’s available, primarily to stay within the budget to build the school.”

Davis said the last school constructed, Rocky Mount High School, went $14 million over its $28 million budget, costing an eventual $42 million.

“We just can’t afford to let that happen again,” he said. “That’s not fair to our taxpayers. Our hope is they will agree to start working together moving forward and that will include anything concerning that school.”

In a separate motion, commissioners also voted unanimously to ask the General Assembly in April to amend legislation naming the school system to change its name from Nash-Rocky Mount School Administrative Unit to Nash County School Administrative Unit and rename the school board from the Nash-Rocky Mount Board of Education to the Nash County Board of Education.

Currently, the renaming scheduled in the legislation omits the word “County” in both cases, which Davis said was a legalese omission. 

“Our board wishes it to have it say ‘Nash County,’” he said. “We just want it cleaned up before they get too far with it.”

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