By Tim Gardner
The Avery Board of Commissioners, during its meeting May 6 meeting, unanimously (5-0) approved proceeding with $20-plus million in construction and renovations to the county’s only public high school and building a new community center for the County’s Cooperative Extension Service.
Commissioners attending included: Chairperson Martha Hicks, Vice-Chairman Blake Vance; Wood Hall (Woodie) Young, Jr.; Tim Phillips; and Dennis Aldridge. Also present were: County Manager Phillip Barrier, Jr.; Assistant County Manager and Clerk to the Commissioners Cindy Turbyfill; Finance Officer Tim Greene; and County Attorney Michaelle Poore.
Bids for the construction and renovation project at Avery High School were opened April 23, at the Avery County Schools’ central office by Rob Johnson, of Boomerang Design of Charlotte, NC, the project’s architect.
Branch Builds, Inc. of Roanoke, VA and Charlotte submitted the lowest bid of $17,225,279.00, which the Avery Board of Education accepted by a unanimous vote (5-0) to perform the project. As a result of the School Board’s bid approval and the Commissioners agreeing the County will fund the project, Branch Builds, Inc. will perform all the necessary work, including general construction and renovations, alternates and contingencies involved in completing the construction and renovations, which consist of 56,468 square-foot and 19,974-square-foot, respectively.
Hicks said the County has committed to funding $20,246,039.00 to cover all miscellaneous and any other costs that may be added to the $17-million plus bid to complete the construction and renovations.
The project still has to be approved by The Local Government Commission or LGC, established by North Carolina General Statue 159-3, which provides assistance to local governments and public authorities in the state. It is staffed by the Department of State Treasurer and approves the issuance of debt for all units of local government and assists those units with fiscal management.
However, that approval is generally considered only a formality.
Avery County School Superintendent Bryan Taylor said he hopes that construction and renovations will begin as soon as the 2018-19 school year ends on June 7, with the project’s total completion likely in late 2020 or in 2021.
“This is a historic time for Avery County and the future of our children as well as our county,” Taylor proclaimed. “The school system is most grateful to everyone who has played a part in helping this high school project come to fruition. It’s been on the drawing board for ten or more years and had to be delayed because of funding or other purposes. But county officials, headed by the Commissioners and the Board of Education and other school system officials have worked very hard together to make this project happen.”
Taylor added that a public groundbreaking for the project will be announced as soon as its details can be ironed out.
The project’s estimated cost had risen from $19.1 million to $23 million this year. Part of the estimated increase has been attributed to the need to replace equipment at the school. However, the bids came in much lower—more than 17 percent—than anticipated.
The high school construction and renovations project was originally scheduled to proceed to bid after a vote by the Board of Commissioners during their May 7, 2018 regular monthly meeting. A specific reference was made then to a motion for an amount not to exceed $19.5 million compared to the initial estimate of $19.1 million after Poore said that a particular dollar value should be provided with the motion.
The commissioners ultimately permitted the project to proceed to bid and use $1.7 million in education lottery funds to pay for its initial phases.
The project is a major, long-term financial commitment for the county. But Hicks said the County has been approved loans by three banks to provide the money to fund the project. She added that the County will continue to pursue all available grant monies and any other funding that may be, or becomes available to help pay for the project and offset any loans that have to be repaid.
Taylor declared that the project to the 50-year old high school will have “an absolute minimum” of what is needed. It includes utility improvements, new classrooms and offices and Americans with Disabilities Act compliance.
Concerning the new Avery Extension Service community center, the building will be built next to the Avery County Cooperative Extension Service headquarters on Vale Road in Newland. The new community center building has an estimated cost of $1 million.
Further details about its construction will be released in the near future, Hicks said.
The Avery County Board of Commissioners voted last year to contract with fundraising consulting company Capital Development to help raise the needed funding for that project. However, funding for the new community center will come from the county’s 2019-2020 budget, specifically its fund balance, according to Hicks.
The new Avery County North Carolina Cooperative Extension building was opened last fall at $1.4 million. That facility includes ten offices for the Director and staff, a Conference Room, Wet Lab and a Teaching Kitchen.
Upon completion of the new community center that will include community rooms and conference/training spaces, county and agricultural extension officials believe the two facilities will be a combined County asset and agribusiness knowledge center, as well as a prime destination for industries and community members at large.
“The County is excited about the high school construction and renovations and the new Extension Service Community Center,” Hicks said. “These facilities have long been needed and the Commissioners are pleased that we can provide the necessary funding for them. The County is continuing to move forward in many areas, especially in new and improved facilities that will benefit the whole county and its citizens.”
Another key topic of discussion during the meeting was funding for the next fiscal year for Mayland Community College.
MCC President John Boyd asked the Commissioners to consider funding the college $379,640.00 for the upcoming 2019-2020 fiscal year. Boyd’s request is $24,640.00 higher than the $355,000.00 the Commissioners funded the college for the 2018-19 fiscal year.
The increase funding would provide a monetary parallel between Avery, Mitchell and Yancey counties in funds they each provide for the college.
The Commissioners will announce in June the allocations each entity the County funds will receive for the 2019-2020 fiscal year.
Additionally, the Commissioners approved (5-0) a contract with the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games to provide Emergency Medical Services (EMS) by the Linville Central Rescue Squad for the event. Under agreed terms of the contract, the County will provide these services from 6:00 a.m. on July 11 until 8:00 p.m. on July 14. Additional agreed terms are that the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games will pay the County an amount equal to the salary, overtime and other total compensation for emergency medical technicians who are scheduled to work during the course of the Highland Games, and reimburse attorney’s fees to the County. The agreement specifically excludes costs of the transport unit and crew of the Avery EMS.
Barrier, Jr. also advised that the new Avery County Dive-In Swimming Pool will have a grand opening later in May and that the old chimney will be torn down and replaced at the Avery CARES building.
The next regular monthly meeting of the County Commission will be June 3rd, in its Board Room in the County Administration Building at 175 Linville Street in Newland. It will begin at 3:30 p.m.