Commissioner Ken Robertson explained why he, as a member of the board and a Republican, supports a proposed $125 million bond.
Robertson’s presentation came during the Iredell County Board of Commissioners meeting Monday night. The bond would go toward funding a middle and high school in the southern part of the county.
“We really can’t talk about how to spend money today unless we’re able to know what the future is going to look like a little bit better, and a high school is the 800-pound gorilla in the room,” Robertson said. “If we can’t address this and fix this, almost all of our other discussions have to change.”
Because building the schools comes with such a large price tag, Robertson said the board wanted to start talking about a possible bond now.
Robertson reflected on the bond to build Lake Norman High School more than 20 years ago. He was a leader of the conservative party and, while the party didn’t openly campaign against the bond, it also didn’t support it.
Conservatives are resistant to ideas that require a tax raise, Robertson said. Even if those ideas are good ones.
The bond to build Lake Norman High School failed on Election Day.
“Just because something’s needed, if good men and women sit back and do nothing, it can fail again,” Robertson said. “I want you to imagine what this county would be like if the largest high school in the county today did not exist.”
Robertson addressed arguments he said those opposed to the bond would make.
By state metrics, Iredell schools aren’t at capacity. Robertson said school staff and officials were saying otherwise. Schools are a responsibility managed by local government. In this instance, officials closer to the issue know better than the state does.
“Do we want to be a county that has (schools with) 2,500 or more students? Can you imagine how hard it would be to make the team?” Robertson asked.
Robertson said 1,000-1,400 more students would join the school systems in the next few years, and that number is going to continue to grow.
“For someone to think that it’s a bad idea to build this high school, they must first believe that they think that the flow of students that we’re seeing is going to stop,” Robertson said. “Now who’s being realistic and who’s being unrealistic?”
Robertson said some schools, like Lake Norman High School and Statesville High School cannot be expanded. Lake Norman High School could only get bigger if floors were added, which is a very expensive construction project.
Robertson said there are alternatives to building the schools. The county could bus students living in the southern, more populated end of the county to the northern end where schools are having less capacity issues.
However, to do that, the county would have to buy more buses, gas and bus drivers. Robertson said fuel costs would be in the hundreds of thousands. He also pointed out that the county already has a bus driver shortage.
Even with the redistribution, mobile classrooms would have to be added to West and North Iredell high schools. Roberson said the school districts would be shifted south to accommodate where the population is growing.
Some students would drive past another high school that was closer to their residence to get to their high school.
“The time for our people to get engages is before we vote on the bond, not after the kids are on the school buses,” Robertson said.
Robertson said another option was to add mobile classrooms called megaunits. To accommodate 1,400 students, the county would need to buy eight units. Units cost $466,700, and it costs $95,500 to set the units up. Combined, all those units would cost almost $4.5 million. However, mobile classrooms need to be replaced every 10 years.
Later in the meeting, board chairman James Mallory pointed out that megaunits add classrooms but not facilities like bathrooms and cafeterias, so there would still be crowding in such shared facilities.
“We’re going to build a high school,” Robertson said. “The only question is how much money are we going to flush down the proverbial toilet on mobile units until we grow up and build the high school and not waste money loading up eight sets of megaunits in these high schools and then try to bus the kids to get them there. To build or not to build. That really is the question.”