Wake Ed

Wake County to identify $2 billion in school construction needs

Every parking space out in front of the Apex High school main entrance is filled at midday January 28, 2016. The Wake County Board of Commissioners and school board will meet Feb. 3 to discuss how to pay for construction projects such as Apex High’s $70 million renovation.
Every parking space out in front of the Apex High school main entrance is filled at midday January 28, 2016. The Wake County Board of Commissioners and school board will meet Feb. 3 to discuss how to pay for construction projects such as Apex High’s $70 million renovation. hlynch@newsobserver.com

Wake County school officials will tell commissioners Wednesday they have more than $2 billion in school construction needs over the next seven years.

During Wednesday’s joint meeting of the board of commissioners and school board, school staff will lay out the seven-year capital improvement plan while county staff will lay out what money is available in their funding model. The school district’s presentation comes at a time when commissioners are looking at skipping a school bond referendum this year and not raising property taxes in order to protect a half-cent sales tax to pay for the transit plan that will be on the November ballot.

School officials project they’ll need on average $358.9 million a year to meet construction needs. The county’s funding model indicates that Wake won’t come close to providing $358.9 million unless commissioners raise taxes.

What will likely happen in the next several months is that the school board and commissioners will agree to a scaled-down version of the capital improvement plan to cover the next three to four years.

For now, school staff project the need for $1.1 billion for new schools, or an average of $157 million a year for the next seven years. That amount covers the opening of 10 elementary schools, two middle schools and three high schools. Also on the bill are five elementary schools, a middle school and a high school that won’t be open at the end of the seven-year period but will need to be bid out.

The new schools would help Wake keep up with the 20,904 new students projected to come by 2022. But Wake is projecting costs to rise to $100 million for a new high school, $63 million for a new middle school and $34 million for a new elementary school.

Another expensive item is an average of $83.5 million a year for 15 major school renovations, such as the reconstruction of Apex High School.

Other big-ticket items include:

▪ An average of $30 million a year for life-cycle replacements to replace individual systems at schools before they fail;

▪ An average of $12.9 million a year for projects identified by the district’s space needs analysis;

▪ An average of $10 million a year for land acquisition for school sites;

▪ An average of $65 .5 million a year for a variety of items such as technology, furniture and equipment, temporary classrooms and program contingencies.

The list of recommended new schools and renovations are scheduled to be finalized by March. But the district has already started design work on four new schools and four major renovations to include in the next building program.

Wake’s average need of $358.9 million a year is well above what would be available if commissioners don’t raise taxes to pay for capital improvement projects.

If taxes don’t go up, between $160 million and $370 million a year would be available through 2025 to pay for all the county’s capital needs. Most years the amount would be under $300 million.

The county could provide between $250 million and $410 million a year for capital needs if property taxes were raised 3.6 cents over the next four years.

Instead of puting a large school bond referendum on this year’s ballot that would authorize use of general obligation bonds, commissioners are considering issuing a smaller amount of limited-obligation bonds that won’t require voter approval or raise taxes.

  Comments