Camden seeks new grant for high school project that could cut county cost in half | Local News

CAMDEN — Camden County is considering a possible state grant that would allow for the construction of a new, more comprehensive high school while halving the amount the county would have to borrow to build it.

School and county officials moved forward with a plan to build the new high school at a total cost of $45.3 million. The plan includes the use of a $12.3 million facilities grant based on state need and $33 million in bond financing approved in a November 2020 referendum.

Over the past few months, the Camden Board of Education has worked with the project’s architects and design-build company to complete plans for the building and prepare for its site work. The council had planned to solicit construction bids for the school this month.

But when the state budget passed with new guidelines and funding for need-based school facility grants, school officials decided it was worth slowing down the process long enough to apply for a grant under the new system.

The previous maximum grant for any project was $15 million, and Camden received $12.3 million under this system. But the new maximum grants are $30 million for an elementary school, $40 million for a middle school and $50 million for a high school.

“Sometimes it’s worth putting things on hold in order to have a better long-term outcome or to get more money,” Camden County Schools Superintendent Joe Ferrell said.

Grant applications are due at the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction on March 15, and DPI said it plans to notify grant recipients in April.

Ferrell said the school board had to make significant cuts to the school from the original plan in order to reduce its costs to $45.3 million. If the county received the state’s $50 million grant — that’s not a sure thing, but school officials hope — officials could add features like an auditorium and hall auxiliary sports organizations that were cut from the project due to cost and need to borrow only about $15 million – less than half of the $33 million approved in the bond referendum.

Ferrell said the larger grant could save the county taxpayers money. The amount the county would have to borrow would be cut in half if the full $50 million was granted for the project, he said.

The school board voted in favor of the new grant application, but it still needs to get approval from Camden commissioners.

Chairman of the Board of Commissioners Ross Munro said the board strongly supports the construction of a new high school and he expects commissioners to support the grant application.

Munro said he can’t speak for the entire board, but thinks the commissioners will be receptive to the grant proposal. He said he would have to consider the amount of the local game, but thinks the grant would find support from the commissioners.

Noting that the bond referendum for the new high school in 2020 passed by a nearly 3-to-1 margin, Munro said “Camden County voters have spoken and we have heard them loud and clear.”

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