Orange County voters will decide, starting Thursday, whether the county should spend $125 million in taxpayer-funded bonds on school construction and affordable housing.
The bond referendums are:
▪ $120 million for new buildings, long-needed repairs and safety and security upgrades in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro and Orange County Schools districts
▪ $5 million to support the county’s plan for 1,000 affordable rentals and for-sale homes
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The Orange County Board of Commissioners voted earlier this year to put the bonds to voters, because the school construction costs are higher than the tax dollars available to deal with them. The bonds, if approved, could increase property taxes over time by 3.7 cents to 5.8 cents.
That could add $74 to $116 a year to the tax bill sent to an owner of property valued at $200,000. The owner of property valued at $300,000 could see a tax increase of $111 to $174 a year.
Early voting starts Thursday, Oct. 20, and runs through Nov. 5. The general election is Nov. 8.
More about the bonds:
Q. How did the county come up with a list of projects?
A. Both school boards studied their needs over the last few years, coming up with a list that totaled about $330 million. The $120 million bond could address immediate priorities – allocated according to student enrollment – and be spent in the next five years.
The remaining needs could be addressed over time, through regular construction budgets or financing.
Q. Why is there a need?
A. Both districts have a number of schools over 50 years old. Those schools lack modern mechanical, security and safety systems, and offer limited access to those with disabilities. The cost of repairs and renovations has begun to outweigh the cost of replacing buildings, officials said.
The county, instead of making necessary upgrades over the last few decades, spent the money building new schools to meet growing enrollment. Chapel Hill-Carrboro has built nine schools since 1990; another 10 were built before 1980. Orange County has built six schools, for a total of 13, in the last 25 years.
Q. What Chapel Hill-Carrboro needs would be met?
A. The Chapel Hill-Carrboro school district expects to spend about $72.1 million on two projects (Watch the video at vimeo.com/185387084.) The first is a $52.4 million project to demolish and rebuild the main building and renovate others at Chapel Hill High School.
The school’s front entrance lacks disability access, and multiple, steep staircases connect the floors. The single elevator is aging, slow and doesn’t have a button that will keep the door open for slower passengers, building technician Anthony Little said.
The outdated air-conditioning system causes building-wide leaks, feeding mildew and mold growth, Little said, and it can take hours to warm up the building when the furnace goes out. Inadequate drainage creates flooding in the courtyard and adjacent math wing, where the air smells of mildew and stays moist despite the humidifiers. The foundation is settling, cracking the walls, ceilings and floors in places.
The PTSA will hold an information meeting about the project at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 26, in the school’s media center.
Another $22.6 million in bond money would help demolish and replace Lincoln Center and Phoenix Academy on South Merritt Mill Road. One new building would consolidate pre-K students from across the district in a dedicated preschool on the first floor. The district’s administrative offices would be upstairs.
A larger Phoenix Academy would eliminate mobile units, add up to 100 high school seats and include the Bridge Program for students with mental health issues.
Q. What Orange County needs would be met?
A. Orange County Schools could use its share – nearly $47.9 million – to address mechanical issues, safety and security, and a modern, centralized bus garage.
The biggest project is a new wing at crowded Cedar Ridge High School that would add 500 more seats and delay plans for a new high school in 2022. Smaller projects at multiple schools include new roofs and modern air-conditioning and heating systems, and security and safety upgrades.
The ballot referendum for the “Orange County Low and Moderate Income Housing” bond states:
“Shall the order authorizing Orange County general obligation bonds in the maximum amount of $5,000,000 plus interest to pay capital costs of providing housing for persons of low and moderate income and paying related costs, and providing that additional taxes may be levied in an amount sufficient to pay the principal of and interest on the bonds, as adopted by the County’s Board of Commissioners on May 5, 2016, be approved?”
Q. What is affordable housing?
▪ Affordable rental housing, which can include utilities and transportation, costs no more than 30 percent of a person or family’s monthly income
▪ Affordable for-sale housing costs no more than three times a family’s income
▪ The county’s goal is to provide up to 1,000 affordable homes in five years
Q. Who would it serve?
▪ Those earning below 80 percent of the area median income – up to $39,600 a year for one person or $56,550 for a family of four
▪ Roughly $1.2 million would serve each of four groups: minimum wage earners; workforce employees (maintenance workers, teacher aides, nursing assistants); working professionals (teachers, public safety, small business owners); and special needs, including the disabled and seniors on fixed incomes
Q. Why is it needed?
A. Orange County’s stock of affordable rental and for-sale housing is limited and growing more scarce as the cost of rent for newly renovated apartments and to buy a home pushes more people out. The bond would provide the county with leverage and matching funds for state and federal housing programs.
A $120 million bond referendum on this year’s ballot will provide money for long-needed repairs, upgrades and new buildings in the city and county school districts.
Proposed projects for the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools include:
Chapel Hill High
▪ Demolish and replace main building, adding a secure front lobby and entrance, increasing disability access to the whole building and creating a more connected campus
▪ Improve vehicle and bus access and drop-off sites
▪ Upgrade heating and air-conditioning systems; improve security, safety and drainage issues; correct chronic flooding, moisture and mold issues
▪ Eliminate 14 mobile units; provide safe science labs; add student seats; larger drama, dance, wrestling and weight rooms; improve undersize and inefficient staff support space
Lincoln Center/Phoenix Academy
▪ Demolish and replace Lincoln Center administration building (former all-black Lincoln High School)
▪ Build a two-story building with ground-level preschool and second-story administrative offices; expected to free up 189 elementary school seats across district and delay need for new school
▪ Improve disability access; correct moisture and mold issues; improve campus safety and security
▪ Improve parking and professional development space
▪ Demolish and replace Phoenix Academy with a new school that creates up to 100 high school seats and moves the Bridge Program for students with mental health issues out of mobile units
Orange County Schools
▪ A.L. Stanback Middle: replace mechanical systems, address building and maintenance issues, upgrade and replace aging and noncompliant food service facilities, upgrade science classrooms, improve campus security
▪ Cameron Park Elementary: replace mechanical systems, address building issues, upgrade and replace aging and noncompliant food service facilities, improve campus security
▪ Cedar Ridge High: upgrade science classrooms, add a new wing, add seats for 500 more students, improve campus security
▪ Central Elementary: replace mechanical systems, address building issues, upgrade and replace aging and noncompliant food service facilities, improve campus security
▪ C.W. Stanford Middle: upgrade and replace aging and noncompliant food service facilities, upgrade science classrooms, improve campus security
▪ Efland-Cheeks Elementary: replace mechanical systems, upgrade and replace aging and noncompliant food service facilities, address building issues, improve campus security
▪ Grady Brown Elementary: upgrade and replace aging and noncompliant food service facilities, address building issues, improve campus security
▪ Gravelly Hill Middle: improve campus security
▪ Hillsborough Elementary: replace mechanical systems, upgrade and replace aging and noncompliant food service facilities, improve campus security, add hallways connecting buildings
▪ New Hope Elementary: replace mechanical systems, upgrade and replace aging and noncompliant food service facilities, improve campus security
▪ Orange High: replace mechanical systems, upgrade and replace aging and noncompliant food service facilities, address building and maintenance issues, improve campus security
▪ Partnership Academy: improve campus security
▪ Pathways Elementary: improve campus security
▪ Districtwide: Replace two 1950s facilities with a centrally located bus garage that meets modern building codes and is large enough that the bay doors can be closed when parking modern buses
Polls open on Election Day, Nov. 8, from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Early voting is open Thursday, Oct. 20, through Saturday, Nov. 5. Early voting sites are:
▪ Carrboro Town Hall, 301 W. Main Street, Carrboro
▪ Chapel of the Cross Church, 304 E. Franklin Street, Chapel Hill
▪ Efland Ruritan Club Building, 3009 US Highway 70 West, Efland
▪ Orange County Board of Elections, 208 S. Cameron Street, Hillsborough
▪ Seymour Senior Center, 2551 Homestead Road, Chapel Hill
More information about early voting and available hours is posted at bit.ly/2bmcPPd.