Chapel Hill News

Orange County Commissioners weigh possible school bond options

The Orange County commissioners considered Tuesday whether part of a proposed $100 million bond referendum should help build a new school or fix older ones.

A new middle school, on which construction could begin in 2017 or 2018, could cost $43 million. Another $30 million would pay to build a new county jail within five years on land leased from the state.

The county already budgeted the money for both projects in its five-year capital investment plan. If the county continues with that plan, it would free up the bond money for city and county school repairs, renovations and upgrades.

Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools officials have estimated their building maintenance and age-related issues at $52 million to $170 million. Orange County Schools officials estimate at least $20 million to $68 million, plus a new elementary school by 2020.

A $100 million bond would require 4.18 cents on the county’s current 85.8-cent per $100 valuation property tax rate over the next 20 years, county staff said.

Commissioner Mark Dorosin said any renovation should allow more students to attend the school.

“I think if we’re going to put any money into the renovation of these older schools, which is much needed, I think we ought to demand that any renovation increase capacity,” he said. “I think it would be irresponsible of us to spend that money without (some benefit).”

The commissioners would have to hold a public hearing and agree to a bond referendum by June 2014 to get it on the November 2014 ballot. The last voter-approved schools bond was $47 million in 2001.