Orange County needs an outside consultant for the continued development of school capital in Orange County schools and schools in the city of Chapel Hill-Carrboro, according to a report from the School Needs Task Force. capital.
The report was presented at the September 29 joint meeting of the Orange County Board of Commissioners with the two school districts.
The task force, created in fall 2021 following a petition by Commissioner Jean Hamilton, includes elected officials and staff from both school districts to focus on the capital needs of schools, especially older ones. .
Orange County funds CHCCS and OCS, including more than 20,000 students and 2,500 faculty and staff.
CHCCS and OCS rank first and third, respectively, in per student funding statewide. Despite this, a review by the task force found that the availability of funding is still a “significant issue” for both districts.
The group projected the updated school developments could cost up to $500 million due to rising construction costs since its last cost estimate.
According to the report, of the 32 school campuses and seven school administrative offices in Orange County, more than half are over the age of 50 and need repairs.
The report also indicates that the current Orange County school funding model is based on available funds and debt capacity rather than school need.
As a result, the task force recommended that the county seek other sources of funding.
The group recommends that the county find an independent outside consultant specializing in school facilities to evaluate and suggest improvements for the planning, design, construction and financing of school districts.
These improvements would then be included in a 10-year plan, which has already been launched by the two districts to target school facility needs, according to the report.
“We already know that resources are limited, and yet together we have to look for ways, and as county commissioners, to make sure we don’t miss anything,” Hamilton said.
The task force’s recent report indicates that it is interested in making better-informed decisions about school capital needs and improving countywide efficiency and transparency.
Hamilton said Guilford County schools have developed a similar process, committing $2 billion to updating schools.
The report also says the county should update its Adequate Public Facilities for Schools (SAPFO) ordinance — created to ensure school capacities can meet population growth — to better reflect current conditions.
SCO Education Council member Carrie Doyle said there was an urgent need to update SAPFO because it does not adequately demonstrate the growth schools will continue to experience.
She also said having a consultant draw up a timeline with Guilford County helps make the plan more realistic.
“It seems like a realistic, practical approach that’s holistic for both districts and we really desperately need it to be ready to move forward,” Doyle said.
CHCCS Deputy Superintendent of Operations Al Ciarochi said that while the district has an architectural consultant who has an in-depth understanding of central North Carolina construction costs, having a second party could introduce a new way to solve permanent problems.
“It’s not a simple solution,” Ciarochi said. “And we’re going to have to find ways to, I’ll say, ‘peel that onion’ and decide how we can impact as many of our schools at the fastest pace possible.”
He added that having an outside perspective can help school districts know they are making the most informed decision possible.
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