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$26 million Knox Middle School renovation gets go-ahead from school board

SALISBURY — Knox Middle School will get a new, two-story classroom building and a complete renovation that architects say will extend the life of the facility by 20 to 25 years under a plan approved Monday by the Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education.

The board voted 4-3 to move forward with a $26 million renovation and rebuilding plan, asking architects to create a design that can be bid for construction. Voting for the proposal were Alisha Byrd-Clark, who made the motion; Jean Kennedy, Dean Hunter and Travis Allen. Voting against the proposal were Kevin Jones, Vice Chairwoman Susan Cox and Chairman Josh Wagner.

Jones said his hesitation included the fact that the estimate for the project was developed during the meeting and after the school board asked for additional information about renovations. Wagner told the board that he thought a new school would be more cost-effective than replacing some buildings now and others in 20 years. And Cox told the Post said she thinks the school board could achieve the same result — a “new” school — for $18 million with a plan that was previously presented to the school board.

The plan approved Monday would demolish three classroom buildings at the rear of Knox Middle School that total 50,000 square feet; build a new two-story classroom building that’s 60,000 square feet; and renovate any buildings that aren’t replaced, including the gym. That renovation would involve replacing everything except the shell of the building, representatives of architecture firm LS3P Associates told the school board.

The plan would also “tighten up” the campus of Knox to improve safety, said Paul Boney, of LS3P.

Students would not attend classes there during the renovation, and the school board discussed dispersing Knox students to other middle schools while work is ongoing.

Byrd-Clark, whose district includes Knox, said the renovation is much needed, in part because the school looks the same as it did when she attended.

“You want kids and parents to feel good about themselves on a daily basis, not only being there for educational purposes. … When you walk in and it looks kind of dilapidated, it tends to lower self-esteem and confidence,” Byrd-Clark told the Post. “So, this right here lets students, teachers and parents in our district know that we care and that we’re trying to change the way that Knox looks.”

With finite funding, she said the district could not afford to build a new Knox Middle School — estimates for a new facility were more than $40 million.

“I’m very pleased with the decision that we’ve made, and I’m looking forward to seeing a totally new, renovated Knox come to fruition,” Byrd-Clark said. “They’ve been totally overdue for one. So, with Knox being the heart of our city, they deserve it.”

Pointing out the long delay for Knox, Kennedy gave a passionate speech to the school board Monday that noted a mediation agreement with county commissioners in 2014 included making renovations to the middle school. Rowan-Salisbury Schools had committed to build a central office and a West Rowan Elementary School as part of the mediation agreement, “and we’re still here talking about what do we do for Knox,” Kennedy said.

“We are still kicking the can down the street,” she said. “We need to stop looking at what we want and start looking at the children.”

The school board’s vote came at the end of a long meeting and after the Knox renovations had appeared at the start of the agenda. During discussion at the start of the meeting, however, Allen asked architects to provide an updated cost estimate to place a new classroom building in the rear of the facility rather than between existing buildings and a football field.

Assistant Superintendent for Operations Anthony Vann said he and the architects could provide that before the end of the meeting, working as school board members heard other presentations.

Hunter quizzed architects about whether the renovations would improve the condition of the building sufficiently — from three to seven on a scoring rubric RSS uses.

“I’ve never seen anything that enough time and enough money can’t fix,” Boney responded. “The question is: By doing that, is it better to go and make the investment in a new building.”

The board on Monday also tallied up how much money remains from a county government promise earlier this year to provide $81.5 million to the school system — including $6.5 million that had already been allocated, $15 million available now and $60 million that will be available in the 2020-21 fiscal year.

A Knox Middle School renovation would leave the district with about $49 million left to address capital needs, with some portion of that likely to be spent on a combined South Rowan Elementary School. RSS has applied for state grant funding to defray the county’s cost for the elementary school.

Contact editor Josh Bergeron at 704-797-4248.

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