Discussions about a financial opportunity for a major school project, and the completion of another, were encouraging announcements at Monday night’s McDowell County Board of Education meeting.

Superintendent Mark Garrett proclaimed Phase II of the athletic facilities update a wrap, minus a few loose ends to tie up.

“The track striping is now complete,” he said during the meeting. “That was the last piece of this puzzle. The next step will be to walk through the architect Chuck Hamrick before final payment is submitted. But the facility is now open for all activities, and for all intents and purposes, I’m calling Phase II complete. I’m very happy to make that announcement this evening.”

A time-lapse video was shown of when work began in early spring up to the finished product. Garrett thanked the board for their support and leadership during the process.

“I appreciate your tenacity hanging with us through the weather. I’m going to happily remove Phase II athletic facilities update (from the agenda), and then we will wait on your direction on further phases. I’m happy to make that report, Mr. Chairman,” said Garrett.

“Thank you sir. We are glad you made that report. It’s beautiful,” Chairman Terry Frank said.

Then the focus turned to Old Fort Elementary School and the vision of a new facility for the students and community. Garrett said he was submitting the application on Tuesday specifically for a needs-based public school capital grant.

“The General Assembly has designated $30 million from lottery funds for projects that target Tier I counties. McDowell County is a Tier I county. They also added $75 million to fiscal year 18-19,” Garrett said.

A Tier I county is, among other things, an economically-distressed county. He requested notes from board members concerning the narrative on how the new facility could make an impact on student learning and the Old Fort community. Another piece of legislation from the General Assembly has increased the square footage estimate of the Old Fort project, causing the price to go up from $14 million to about $20 million.

“It used to be that DPI planned elementary schools on a one to 20 (student) ratio for classes. With new legislation that will kick in 18-19, they have dropped it down to one to 17, which adds square footage,” said Garrett. “So for student capacity, square footage had to be increased. When you increase square footage, you increase the estimate.”

With the needs-based grant, Garrett said, for every dollar invested from the community, the school will get $3 in state money in return, up to $15 million, which comes to a pretty good chunk that could cover the cost of school construction.

“With the local investment from county commissioners of $5 million, we could get a $15 million grant to go toward the project that would then allow the commissioners to work on other facility needs in the community,” said Garrett. “We are excited about this grant, and I think it’s important to give credit to our county commissioners for being behind us in this project.”

The grant award is expected to be announced by Nov. 1.

A work session for the Old Fort project is scheduled for later this month. The board will meet at Old Fort Elementary to do a walk-through of the school. From this work session, the board will get a better idea of if they plan to renovate the school, or build a new one altogether.

In other business:

-Garrett gave his administrative reports to the board.

-Eastfield Global Magnet School presented the curriculum feature highlighting PAWS for reading with Leroy, Lunch with Leaders and the DARE program.

-Director of Elementary Education Crystal Hamby introduced the Family Resource Center directors to the board. The directors then spoke on behalf of their designated locations and the events with students and families they are involved in. Hamby also shared about MCS being the grant recipient for the NCDHHS Partnership of the Foothills Fund. The funds are received for Circle of Parents. Family Resource Directors are Allison Baldwin, Jennifer Morgan, Megan Ziegler and Rhonda McFadden. Circle of Parents is a support group for families. Circle of Parents is held at North Cove, Glenwood, Old Fort, Eastfield, Nebo and Head Start. The purpose of the group is to be a safe place for parents to share the joys and trials of being a parent. Glenwood and North Cove centers also offer part-time preschool for kids age 2 to 5 for parents that don’t need full time care.

-Garrett presented the McDowell County Board of Education with the Silver Bell Award from the North Carolina School Board Association for training excellence and commitment during the 2016-2017 for the NCSBA academy year of the NCSBA academy of school boardsmanship.

-Head Start volunteer “Grandmother” Edith Hollifield was honored at Monday’s meeting for her many years and hours of service as a foster grandparent. Recently, the program lost its sponsorship forcing many grandparent fosters out of a financial stipend for their volunteerism.

-Teacher of the Year Benjamin Moore presented his monthly report on how music affects the brain.

-Board members Amy Moomaw and Brian Piercy gave their reports from recent visits to schools they have made.

-Chairman Terry Frank reported on the district NCSBA meeting where they talked about critical incidents concerning schools and the push for allowing legislators to let school boards control their own calendars.

-Chief Academic Officer Laura Davis updated the school board on low-performing schools from the school report cards. Last year, there were four of 13 schools on the low-performing list. East McDowell Middle, Eastfield and Pleasant Gardens were removed from the list. Nebo remains on the list and may receive an assistance team from the N.C. Department of Public Instruction. According to the law, any schools that are a D or F and do not exceed expected growth are on the low-performing schools lists. A detailed plan has to be submitted in November on how the school board and Central Office are going to support them in improving, vote to approve in December the school improvement plans and will have to be submitted to the state, plans must be posted to the district and state website, parents have to receive a letter explaining the school is low-performing, and the superintendent has to recommend to the board in 30 days whether to retain or remove the principal.