Wake commissioners not sure about lease with school system for Abbotts Creek Elementary

sbarr@newsobserver.comNovember 27, 2013 

— When Wake County staff offered the school system a chance to save $675,000 on the land for soon-to-be-built Abbotts Creek Elementary, school officials jumped at the chance.

But members of the county’s Board of Commissioners aren’t so sure they want to sign off on the deal, and they aren’t scheduled to address the issue at the Monday meeting.

That means school officials hoping to start the bidding process for the elementary school are in limbo as they wait to see just how much they will owe for the land.

“It’s a timing issue,” said Joe Desormeaux, Wake schools’ assistant superintendent for facilities. He said officials still are figuring out just how long they can wait to get started on the project if they want to meet their goal of opening the school in August 2015.

What’s at issue is an interlocal agreement that the county, the city of Raleigh and the school system entered into in 2010. That agreement spelled out how the three groups would develop land off Durant Road, just south of what used to be the North Wake landfill.

The plan called for a county Emergency Medical Services facility, which has since been built, a city community center and a new elementary school. Both the city and the school system are expected to break ground on their portions of the project in 2014.

Under the interlocal agreement, the school system would pay $54,000 per acre for the 12.5 acres they would need to build the school.

Earlier this year though, county staff offered to instead lease the land to the school system for $10 per year, meaning they would retain ownership of the land.

The school board signed off on an amendment to the agreement in October.

County Manager David Cooke, who retired at the end of November, said county staff initiated the change in the agreement in part in keeping with the county’s efforts to own school sites.

“It seemed counterintuitive to make them pay for a school site when we, essentially, from a policy standpoint wanted to own the land,” he told the commissioners when the amendment reached the board in November.

But several commissioners weren’t sure they want to make the change, since it means money won’t be flowing to the county.

“Even with us owning the land, I never anticipated using general revenue county funds to supplement the capital plan of the school system,” Commissioner Tony Gurley said.

The commissioners voted unanimously to table the amendment, to make time for a policy discussion about whether this is the kind of deal they want to make.

Joe Bryan, chairman of the commissioners board, said the discussion is a necessary one, especially because changing the agreement would mean less money for the county just after a school bond referendum that’s already expected to raise taxes.

“I’d like to do more, but I’m also feeling the weight of that decision that we’re going to make next year on the budget,” he said.

Commissioner James West said he was concerned the issue was being framed as one of the county versus the school board.

But Commissioner Paul Coble said that’s not the case. Instead, the issue is an internal one about how the county should use its money.

As for whether the school system’s timeline could be affected by the commissioners’ decision to wait on a vote, Gurley said the school board can move ahead with the original deal anytime it likes.

T. Keung Hui contributed to this report.

Barr: 919-836-4952

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