After hearing a May 10 proposal to renovate the two schools at a price of roughly $30 million, the Carroll County Board of Supervisors were told of low-interest federal loans and Build America Bonds (BABs) that could save the county 35 percent of the interest costs. There’s a catch, however, Rural Development Area Director Travis Jackson said. Deadlines of Sept. 30 to apply for a federal loan and Dec. 31 to close on the loan don’t leave much time to move forward on the proposal that would add a 9th grade academy to CCHS and move the county’s sixth to eighth grade students to CCIS.
“Unfortunately as of September 30th my ability to be able to help Carroll County is diminished greatly,” Jackson said. “Today I could do a $20-, $30- or $40 million project quite easily.”
Jackson explained that when the economy tanked, the federal government passed legislation to make funding available that previously wasn’t. Rural Development typically has only been able to invest about $3 million in an individual project, but the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) has changed all that, he said. Typically, Rural Development invests $300 million in Virginia each year. Last year that number went up to $680 million and will probably reach $1 billion this year, Jackson told the board.
Currently, Jackson said the county could take advantage of a 4.125 percent interest rate over a 40-year period. There is no pre-payment penalty, and he said every dollar paid over the regular payment goes toward principal. Making this year particularly interesting, Jackson said, is the BABs program which became available through the U.S. Department of Treasury because of recovery act funds. By using the program, Carroll County could get an annual 35 percent rebate on the interest expense for 10 years.
“Normally the IRS closes loopholes that do not allow you to double-dip. But in this case the legislation in place does not take that in consideration,” Jackson said. “So it works to your benefit, meaning you can get a federal loan that already has a subsidized interest rate associated with it, but you can also take advantage of the BABs program which allows you then to be rebated 35 percent of the interest expense for 10 years. That is a huge savings for localities when you have this type of a debt issue.”
But because of the budget proposed by the White House and Congress, Jackson said Rural Development will probably be back to a maximum investment of $3 million per project after Sept. 30. That puts a lot of pressure on communities.
“I think back to a similar conversation I had with a Carroll County board several years ago when they were trying to make a decision of ‘Do we build this building and try to consolidate government services or do we not?’ I know it is a very difficult decision,” Jackson said of the Carroll County Government Center. “If we built this building today it would be well over three times the amount it cost you to consolidate those services. So we look back now and we think what a great decision that was because you are the envy of many other counties that are facing the same dilemma that board faced several years ago.”
The 4.125 percent interest rate is offered on a first-come, first-serve basis, Jackson said, noting he really needed an application in hand by early June to be competitive with other projects. Virginia has already spent its entire budget, Jackson said, so now he is funding projects through a pool of money from other states.
“I am not going to debate the merits of the recovery act or not. What I will say though is the money has already been allocated and is going to be spent somewhere within the United States,” Jackson said. “I look at it as my job that this region of this state gets the majority of that money, back in the citizens’ hands that are the taxpayers. I feel confident right now that if the school board and IDA chooses to move forward with this project, we will be successful in going after the amount of dollars necessary to make these school improvements.”
The next issue will be meeting the Dec. 31 deadline of the BABs program, Jackson said, which is not handled by Rural Development. To meet that deadline, Jackson said the project must be obligated, must have a final set of plan specifications approved, must have particular ARRA language incorporated, and must have an environmental review in order to close by the end of the year.
“Everything is time sensitive. I know it’s a lot of money and a hard decision when looking at the tax base you have in the county,” Jackson said. “But it is a decision that is going to have to be made sometime, whether it is now or in the future. Unfortunately, the future dictates my ability to be able to help you.”
By doing simple math, Jackson estimated the county could save $350,000 annually through the BABs’ 35 percent interest rebate. He said he could also offer the county breathing room by deferring payments for up to three years, although that would increase the cost over the term of the loan.
Before introducing Pinnacle Architects Frank Williams and Jim Watson, Carroll County Superintendent of Schools Dr. Greg Smith told the board how much the same project could be expected to increase over the years. Using what he called a conservative 5-percent annual increase from the current cost of $30 million, Smith said the same project would cost $33 million in five years, $48 million in 10 years, $57 million in 15 years and $74 million in 20 years. Although the base construction cost is now down to an estimated $19.9 million on the project, Smith said associated fees still bring the total cost to about $29.9 million.
Watson said safety improvements would be among the main renovations to the high school. A new entrance to the building would allow for one central access point with an administration area nearby housing the principal, assistant principal and student resource officer for better views of who is entering the building.
“A lot of times you don’t have to worry so much about your own students as other adults in the community who may want access to the building and/or students,” Watson said. “Safety and security has a key role in our initial design and thought process.”
In the second story above the main entrance would be a new, modern media center. It would be approximately 5,000 square feet and would include a media production room, a mini-computer lab for research, and more comfortable seating.
The main addition to the renovations would include moving a 9th grade academy to the high school. Watson said Carroll County is one of the few, if not one of the last, high schools in Southwest Virginia that does not include the 9th grade. The newly-built wing would be located at the current site of the baseball field, Watson said, and would house core classes of English, Social Studies, Science and Math. He said freshmen would be contained to the 9th grade wing about 80 percent of the time, normally only entering the main building for certain electives and meals. The new wing would also have its own office for an assistant principal and guidance counselor. A renovated configuration of the property would also separate car and bus traffic, Watson said.
Adding the ninth grade to the high school would also bring about the need to expand the existing dining room area of the cafeteria and an auxiliary gym. The auxiliary gym would include eight to 10 rows of bleachers and could be used as a second athletic facility for sports such as volleyball and wrestling. It would be a full-sized gym with six basketball goals and would give the wrestling program a better practice facility.
Other renovations include expanding the current fieldhouse, enhancing the outside concession area, adding storage and a team meeting room upstairs, and relocating the baseball field closer to the current football and softball fields. The renovations would also convert the current library into an updated, modern science lab. That would free up current science rooms to be used for computer and foreign language labs.
Renovations also call for CCIS to be converted to a middle school housing grades six through eight. Proposed work would alleviate the traffic flow at the school and would include a new kitchen and cafeteria. The existing cafeteria would be converted into a media center. These additions would allow for growth in the future, Watson said. Space on the second floor of the building would be converted into additional classrooms.
“There is not as much expansion there, but the security and safety issues would be the same,” Watson said.
Williams said Pinnacle didn’t know when the economy would rebound, but Washington County recently received bids on a property 30 or 40 percent below what they anticipated. He hoped Carroll could witness have results. The company has had success, Williams said, by designing the structure the way it wants it for a base bid.
“We know that will come in under the budget, and depending how far under the budget it comes in we include all the other items that we are wanting, our druthers,” he said. “We include that as alternatives.”
Alternates would all be at the high school and would include the fieldhouse addition, a football press box addition, a new elevator for the pressbox, baseball/football field resurfacing, upgrading the existing parking lots, expanding the cafeteria into the current automotive area, and upgrading the air conditioning/lighting system.
“In today’s construction market, we feel like we will be able to do the entire project we have outlined here for the money we have outlined here as the base bid,” Williams said. “I can’t tell you for sure that would happen, but based on construction bids we have been getting everywhere else, I feel comfortable we will get the entire package here — the alternates and the base bids.”
If the bid came in $4 million under the estimated cost, would that be enough to cover all the alternates, Supervisor Sam Dickson asked?
“We feel like it might come in better. That would come close, that would be real close,” Williams said. “The way the funding is, we have to go ahead and bid this thing, have the bid in hand to negotiate before we go to the authority for approval.”
During Supervisors’ Time at the conclusion of the meeting, Dr. Tom Littrell made a motion to advertise a public hearing for June 14 at 5:30 p.m. regarding the school construction issue. The motion passed unanimously.