Smithfield Herald

Neuse Charter breaks ground

Officials break ground for Neuse Charter School’s high school building.
Officials break ground for Neuse Charter School’s high school building.

Neuse Charter School broke ground Monday on its first building.

Teachers and students stood facing a row of golden shovels as Neuse Charter celebrated the start of its high school building, which should be done in time for next school year.

“This is just the first step of something bigger to come,” said founding board member Dave Neville, one of many speakers at the event.

Neuse Charter, the county’s lone charter school, opened its doors in 2007. The school began in Selma before moving to its permanent home on Booker Dairy Road in Smithfield. The campus, now lined with mobile classrooms, has more than 30 acres, and the high school building is just the start of development plans. Neuse Charter leaders say the high school building will be the first of many construction projects, including, eventually, athletic fields.

Chris Johnson, another founding board member, said when he and others started planning Neuse Charter, “We had nothing but a vision.”

The high school building will be three stories high and 33,000 square feet. It will house 19 classrooms, two science labs, four study pods, two technology labs and an atrium, said Joel Erby, the high school’s principal.

The building will cost about $6.5 million. Each year, Neuse Charter receives about $6,000 from the state and county for each pupil, which is the model used for all public schools, charter and traditional, said Lee Jackson, the school’s treasurer. Over time, Neuse Charter was able to save some of that money each year, allowing it to contribute $500,000 in cash to the new building, he said.

The rest of the money will come from loans, which the school will repay with the per-pupil allotment and capital campaigns, Jackson said.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development arm is providing a $4 million loan for 30 years at a 3 percent interest rate. Self-Help Credit Union is providing $2 million for 25 years at roughly 5 percent.

During Monday’s groundbreaking ceremony, school officials lauded the two lenders for their help in making the dream a reality. Self-Help Credit Union also provided the original $125,000 loan to build infrastructure on Neuse Charter’s original campus in Selma.

In Johnston County, bond issues approved by voters typically pay for the construction of new public schools. In November, voters will go to the polls to decide the fate of borrowing for the public schools and Johnston Community College.

Jimmy Lloyd, Neuse Charter’s board chairman, encouraged those gathered Monday to educate themselves on the public charter school system. “We hope today’s activities will spark some curiosity among those who are unfamiliar with us and that this will turn out to be a wonderful opportunity to extend the discussion about education in our community by adding to the understanding of charter schools, how we operate and why we are here,” he said.

The ceremony began and ended with prayer, echoing Neuse Charter’s new roots: the school is on the campus of a private Christian school that didn’t make it. More than 20 years ago, First Assembly of God bought land and later built a gym for Johnston Christian Academy. After the school closed, Neuse Charter bought the campus.

“That 26 acres of land and that gymnasium was available, and I can’t think of any other organization in Johnston County or probably the state of North Carolina other than a charter school that could use a facility such as that, and we were here,” Johnson said. “So there’s a lot of things we need to be thankful for.”