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A view of the Iredell County Government Center in February 2018.

Iredell citizens from around the county came to speak for and against the $125 million bond the Iredell County Board of Commissioners is considering putting on the March 2020 ballot.

If the bond is approved, the money will go to building a middle school for Mooresville Graded School District and a high school to alleviate capacity concerns in the southern part of the county.

The meeting room was almost full of concerned citizens, teachers and school officials.

The superintendents of the two school districts in Iredell and the president of Mitchell Community College addressed the board, supporting the bond.

“I hope the debate doesn’t end here tonight,” Iredell-Statesville Schools Superintendent Brady Johnson said. “A question this big really needs to go beyond these four walls. It really needs to go before the citizens, the hardworking taxpayers in this community who can decide if they want to invest in their public schools or not.”

Commissioner Ken Robertson presented an argument for the bond, pointing out the growing population within the school system and the need for a bond to bring another school to the district. He said 1,000-1,400 students could join the school system in the next few years. Neither Lake Norman or Statesville high schools can be expanded, and argued against the cost of busing students to the less populated north end of the county.

Defending the bond

Commissioner Gene Houpe said the board preferred “voter-approved referendums and expenditures.”

Houpe also said school districts and the government are audited by third party companies on an annual basis, and the institutions are held accountable.

Robertson said there isn’t a legal way to stymie growth in South Iredell, even if the county wanted to, and the county is obligated to provide a place of learning for the students coming into the county.

Impacts beyond

Mooresville

Though the growth in Mooresville created the need for schools, the bond will help schools county-wide,some who attended the meeting said.

Jennifer Christian, the chair of the Iredell County Education Facility Task Force that picked the priority projects the county is trying to fund, mentioned the other projects that will use the money saved from the 2014 bond and capital reserve funds that are freed up when the bond will pay for the news schools.

Christian said the task force created a 10-year plan split into three phases. With the bond and the funds it would free up, all of the phase one projects could be completed.

Those projects include new and renovated vocational shops for West Iredell High School, technology shops and physical education upgrades for Statesville High School and six new classrooms for Lakeshore Elementary School. Mitchell College will be able to renovate a science building and buy land.

Mooresville will also be able to renovate and maintain two elementary schools.

Mitchell College plans to use $10 million of the bond to create an area for driving training for its law enforcement and EMS programs.

Christian said because these planned projects better Mitchell’s training programs of law enforcement, EMS and firefighters, the community will be positively impacted by supporting the bond.

“I believe people want to be proud of their community,” Christian said. “I think part of the fabric of a community is how we treat our elderly and how we treat our children, and I hope when we look back on the decisions that we make tonight, that we can all be proud of our community.”

Harmony Elementary School Principal Todd Russo also supported the bond. He listed several of his school’s needs including updated and expanded classrooms and bathrooms.

“Funding would be freed up for projects for several other schools, and I have to advocate for my school,” Russo said. “We know that the growth takes the priority, so if there is not a bond and it does not pass, my school keeps getting pushed back.”

Community institutions

supporting the bond

Several representatives of businesses and groups also stepped up to the podium in support of the bond.

Realtors spoke in support because people moving to the area always ask about schools in the area. Realtor Bill Balatow said it was rare for a client not to ask about the schools.

“We’ve got a fact of life in this county,” Balatow said. “We’re growing from the bottom up. Our economic development is from the bottom up, but we’re all going to be better off economically if we grow that up further. We will eventually, one day see more growth in Statesville and north of Statesville.”

Greater Statesville Chamber of Commerce President Shannon Viera offered support as an individual and for the chamber.

Piedmont HealthCare CEO Jeff Smith said job candidates always asked about schools right after they asked about salary. He asked the board to make sure the bond is big enough, so there doesn’t have to be another one in four years.

This potential bond follows one passed in 2014 for projects that didn’t address the capacity issue new schools will solve.

The first step

The board unanimously voted to continue the research and discussion regarding a potential to place the bond issue on the March 2020 ballot. A final vote on whether the bond will be on the ballot is expected in early December.

Houpe encouraged those supporting the bond to reach out to their fellow community members who may be against it and give them accurate information to base their decision on.

Robertson asked people who were against the bond to offer alternatives in the months following the meeting.

“This is the first step on a long journey,” Commissioner Thomas Bowles said. “This is a public input meeting tonight, and we’ve got a lot of decisions to make and a lot of data to try to digest to try to figure out what is the right thing to do.”

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