ELIZABETHTOWN — Bladen County Schools Superintendent Robert Taylor made another visit to the county’s Board of Commissioners on Monday in an effort to urge support for a capital projects request.
Taylor gave an overview of the current and projected enrollment, the age of the district’s school building and the costs involved with two plans for moving forward.
“Most of our buildings have reached unusual age — 60 and 70 years old, with one that is 100 years — and we’ve worked hard to keep them up,” Taylor told the board. “But we do need to close some schools.”
The two plans Taylor laid out before the commissioners are radically different in cost, school closures and where the support is based.
Plan A, which the board was told had the support of the public, would close Booker T. Washington in Clarkton and Plain View in Tar Heel. One new K-8 school would be built in Tar Heel and there would also be an athletic fieldhouse/multipurpose building constructed at each high school.
Plan B, which Taylor said had the school board’s blessing “because it met the current and long-range needs of the county,” would close as many as six schools and consolidate Dublin Primary, Plain View and Tar Heel in a new K-8 school located in the Tar Heel area; as well as consolidate Booker T. Washington, Clarkton School of Discovery and East Arcadia into a new K-8 school located in the Council area. This plan would also include the two athletic fieldhouses/multipurpose buildings.
“We think this one meets the needs and has the potential to save $1 million,” Taylor said.
He added that construction costs, which potentially would rise the longer a project is on hold, would be about $21 million for a school housing 750 students and about $17 million for a school housing 550 students. Each project would also need up to $9 million in add-ons.
“But there is good news here,” Taylor said. “The state is releasing $75 million for capital projects and is giving preference to Tier I counties on a 3 to 1 match up to $15 million. So if we spend $40 million, the state would provide $15 million of that through the grant.
“This is a big opportunity for us to give us a good footprint in the county for the next few decades,” he added.
Commissioners peppered Taylor with a myriad of questions, from how potential enrollment was being calculated to locations for possible new schools to how the public might react to the plan being touted by the school board.
Taylor told the board that enrollment numbers are often a best-guess scenario, but that estimates recently have been pretty close. He said the disctrict currently has 4,280 students in K-12; he said the estimate in 2022 was for 4,100 students.
“We figured Emereau would take 150 to 180 students, and they took 175,” he said. “And we figure they will take up to 25 per year for the next five years. We’re also seeing a lot of the Elizabethtown Christian students coming back.
“But we do have about 1,700 students who live in Bladen County who are not attending Bladen County public schools,” he added. “We can account for about half of them, but have no idea where the others are.”
With regards to potential location of new schools, Taylor said it’s a critical decision and that “the geography of this county makes it difficult.”
He also said that, should the school board’s plan receive support from the county commissioners, the school board would hold additional public meetings to explain the plan.
“But I will tell you, new schools are a good tool in attracting good teachers and new students,” Taylor said. “It’s like I’ve said, you have a farmer with a mule and a farmer with an International Harvester. One isn’t a better farmer than the other, he just has better equipment.”
When all was said and done, County Chairman Charles Ray Peterson reminded Taylor that the county board could not offer suggestions and/or recommendations, only offer financial support where it could.
County commissioners decided to discuss Taylor’s presentation in upcoming work sessions before getting back to him with their input. No timetable was offered.
W. Curt Vincent can be reached by calling 910-862-4163 or firstname.lastname@example.org.