Smithfield Herald

School leaders: Johnston bond projects on budget

Johnston school leaders say the first round of voter-approved building projects is on budget, though one project is behind schedule.

Last year, voters agreed to issue $57 million in bonds for nearly a dozen capital projects. The county, which is handling the cash flow for the schools, has sold the first round of bonds, which will pay for a new middle school, a high school gym, an elementary school expansion and high school renovations.

Building started this fall on a new North Johnston Middle School in Micro. Patrick Jacobs, the school system’s chief operations officer, said the project is behind schedule because of rainy weather. However, he said crews are working quickly to catch up.

Jacobs said the nearly $18 million project is still on budget despite unexpected costs linked to removing and back-filling soil near the site. The N.C. Department of Transportation required the widening of Oil Company Road, which necessitated the extra work, Jacobs said.

“It was not suitable soil, so they had to dig it out and then replace it with suitable,” Jacobs said. “That did cost a little bit of money, but we are still under our budget.”

To date, the district has paid out about $6.8 million for the new middle school.

The county is selling the school bonds in three rounds. Money for the new North Johnston Middle, which parents and teachers say is needed to relieve overcrowding, will come from the first and second rounds.

Nearly 650 students are enrolled at the current North Johnston Middle, which has a capacity of about 550 students. The current middle school building, located on East Main Street in Micro, will become an elementary school. Both schools should open for the 2015-16 school year.

A $4 million auxiliary gym for Princeton High is also coming out of the first round of bond sales. Despite heavy rains earlier this year, Jacobs said the gym is on schedule and on budget. So far, the school system has paid out about $700,000 for the gym at Princeton, which is the only high school in the county that does not have an auxiliary gym.

At River Dell Elementary in Clayton, the school system is adding 12 classrooms to the campus. The $2.2 million project will allow students to move out of nine mobile classrooms currently deployed at the school.

“We’re hoping that construction project will be done in May so we can use the summer to transition all the furniture from the existing mobile units into the building,” Jacobs said.

In addition to the middle school, gym and classroom additions, the first round of bond sales also covered high school heating and air-conditioning upgrades.

The county will sell the second round of bonds in about four to five months and the third in early 2016, said Chad McLamb, director of Johnston County’s finance office.

McLamb said while the school system hopes to pay for specific projects in each round of sales, the schedule is fluid.

“They’ve got some estimated projects they will do for each sale, but depending on the availability of funding in each sale, they may move projects forward and backward depending on their needs or cash availability,” McLamb said.