GARNER — Supporters of Wake County’s $810 million school construction bond issue hit the road Tuesday, highlighting conditions at Garner High School to make the case that the plan needs to be approved by voters.
Garner High School Principal Drew Cook led reporters and elected officials on a tour to show the use of 40 mobile classrooms to hold 2,436 students on a campus meant to handle 1,847. The bonds would provide a $67.1 million renovation for Garner High as well as building another high school in Garner to help relieve crowding.
“Don’t get into a contest with us about advocating for the resources and the needs that our kids have, because they are real,” Cook said. “We’re not just talking about bells and whistles. We’re talking about the basics.”
Early voting has begun on a bond measure on the ballot Oct. 8 that would pay for most of a $939.9 million construction program that includes 16 new schools, six major renovation projects, smaller repairs at 79 schools and other projects. Supporters say the bonds would help Wake keep up with projections showing that as many as 20,000 more students could come by 2018.
Opponents criticize the size of the bond issue and question the accuracy of the growth projections. They’ve also pointed to issues including the cost of renovations, such as those at Garner High, which would be almost as much as building a new school. Opponents also ask whether people can afford a tax increase now.
Tony Pecoraro, vice president of the Wake County Taxpayers Association, which opposes the bonds, said Wake should use $180 million in available cash and unspent bond money to pay for renovations rather than ask for a new bond issue.
“They’ve got enough money to do the renovations they need to do,” he said.
The taxpayers association will hold its own news conference against the bonds Wednesday.
‘Wake County is a “yes” place’
Bond supporters held a news conference in the Garner High media center as dehumidifiers kept up a steady hum in the background in an effort at keeping mold and mildew from accumulating on library books.
“Wake County wasn’t built on ‘No,’” said Phil Zachary, co-chairman of the Friends of Wake County, a business-backed group promoting the bond issue. “I see those (‘vote no’) signs; they make me cringe. Wake County is not a ‘No’ place. Wake County is a ‘Yes’ place.”
Passage of the bond issue would result in a property tax rate increase of 5.53 cents, or $145.72 more per year on the average Wake County home, which has an assessed value of $263,500.
“I can assure you that I don’t see anybody standing up here that’s jumping up and down and excited about raising taxes,” said Joe Bryan, chairman of the Wake County Board of Commissioners. “But this is an important investment that we need to make in our community.”
The taxpayers association has said that Wake can get by for at least the next few years using all existing classroom trailers.
During Tuesday’s tour, Cook pointed to some of the trailers that have been in use since at least when he was a student at Garner High in 1992.
“It might be that we’ve got to clarify the definition of the word ‘temporary’ because they’ve been there for 20-plus years,” he said.