Members of the McDowell County Board of Education approved a motion to take the necessary steps to build a new school for Old Fort Elementary, but with a few contingencies.

“The motion does not include the capacity of the school, the timeline or the cost of the project. All of these things can be determined at a later date,” said Patrick Ellis, Old Fort’s representative to the board. “The motion does however set the process formally in motion so we can submit the necessary evidence of intent to the school funding grant committee in August.”

Ellis explained that in order to apply for a needs-based grant from lottery funds designated for Tier 1 counties, the district has to be ready with plans for new construction, not renovation. The county commissioners have promised to give $5 million toward the project, and if the school is approved for the grant, they could receive at least $15 million.

“I’m just trying to get our ducks in a row so that we can ask for this grant. That does not mean we are getting the money,” said Ellis.

The board applied for a similar grant last year for the Old Fort project and was denied. Superintendent Mark Garrett said most of the schools that were awarded grants were in the process of construction or shovel-ready.

Board member Bob Brackett wasn’t convinced the motion was the right thing for the school board.

“I feel like if we put this in motion tonight, we can’t back out,” said Brackett.

Doug McCraw agreed with Brackett.

“We are looking at $22-$24 million dollars and we are $7 million short so I can’t say in good conscience that we can build an entire new school at that cost,” said McCraw. “The only thing we can afford is renovation.”

Piercy explained the cost difference in renovations and new construction is only $4 million.

“And unless you have been in that building as much as I or Patrick has, that 26-year-old building is not in the shape that some say it is,” he said. “I feel that you are being a better steward for tax payer money spending an extra $4 million now as compared to turning around in 10 years and spend double that to fix what you need.”

Vice Chair Terry English said he concurred with Ellis because this motion gives them the option not be locked into any kind of construction agreement.

“Mr. Ellis only said we would take the appropriate steps to move forward with trying to obtain a building of new construction, so I don’t think we limit ourselves on the option, and I don’t think we are backing ourselves in a corner. That’s what I understood his motion to be, that we do our best to try to have a new building at Old Fort,” said English. “I think that’s best for the community and best for the county, and the only way we will know if we can make it happen is if we try to make it happen.”

After the discussion, Chair Terry Frank called for a vote on the motion. The board voted unanimously in support of moving forward with new construction plans at Old Fort Elementary.

“I appreciate everybody’s support,” said Ellis.

Prior to the vote, Garrett updated the board on the drafts for Old Fort from architect Chuck Hamrick.

“Right now, Mr. Hamrick is still working on code issues and site options within that current campus, and looking at certain things with the state as far as capacity size,” said Garrett. He also stated the Central Office is filling out a report with the N.C. Department of Public Instruction on many of the parts of the current building that could be considered of historical value.

In other business:

- McDowell County Schools Christmas card winners were honored during Monday night’s meeting. They are: Brady Tipper, of Old Fort Elementary; Clara McCartha, of North Cove Elementary; Kadyn Gibby, of Nebo Elementary; Amy Finley, of Marion Elementary; Lora Newton, of Glenwood Elementary; Ruby Owenby, of East Middle; Madeline Moore, of Eastfield Global Magnet; Lily Hayden, of AEC; Kassie Garnhum, of Foothills Community School; Tyler Smith, of P.G. Elementary; and Kaeler Carpenter, of West Marion Elementary. (Not pictured: Jacob Hunt, of McDowell Early College; Korryn Shedlock, of McDowell High School; and Lexie McCarthy, of West Middle.)

-McDowell High School Graphics Design students were recognized captured the Christmas cards, posted them and made it to where the district could share them across the state with other districts. Garrett recognized instructor Myra Morgan, and students Adrian Toney, Korryn Shedlock, Savannah Cook, Kara Lambert and Lesly Sanchez. None of the students were present at the meeting.

-The technology department presented the curriculum feature during Monday night’s meeting. They have launched a book study with “The Innovator’s Mindset” and shared their program with the board. The presenters were Alyssa Kanipe, Sandi McCraw and Adam Wiseman.

-Teacher representative Benjamin Moore presented the board with his monthly research study. This month he covered motivating learning.

-Garrett presented board members Piercy and Amy Moomaw with recognition from the N.C. School Boards Association in November. Moomaw earned a Certificate of Advanced Achievement and Piercy with the Award of Excellence.

-During public comments, Charles Hoyle and Lucas Davis spoke to the board about their semi-pro football league in McDowell County. Hoyle is the founder and co-owner of the Marion Rhinos, a developmental program for adult athletes after high school. “We try to help kids who slip through with scholarships and maybe get that second chance to go on to college with a sports scholarship. We have a lot of recruiters that come down and look at our athletes from the McDowell area,” he said. Davis said the team’s main objective is to get athletes recognized. “We want to raise money for the football program at the high school in return for giving us a place to play and practice,” said Davis. “We are asking with help for facilities and we are willing to raise money for the football team.”

-The 2016-2017 audit report was presented by Terry English who said there were no reportable findings in the report. “It’s really an accomplishment when a system this size and a budget this size comes back and there are no reportable findings. That is really a good reflection on how serious our finance staff takes their job,” he said.

-A resolution to execute a quick claim deed to McDowell County Commissioners for the WREC Center Property was pulled out of the consent agenda and tabled for further research.

-A closed session was called for personnel considerations.

-The next meeting is set for March 12.

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