GREENSBORO — Voters in Guilford County have passed a $1.7 billion school bond referendum that would allow the county to borrow money to build schools.
Tuesday’s vote could open the door to a potential flurry of construction and renovations over the next decade, as well as safety and technology upgrades planned for every school in Guilford County Schools. The biggest projects slated for the $1.7 billion are rebuilding the Page and South high schools and establishing a new aviation high school in the northwest region of the county.
Voters overwhelmingly backed the school bond referendum, with around 61% voting in favor and around 39% voting against, according to comprehensive but unofficial results.
Commissioners had hoped to get voters to approve a sales tax hike to help the county pay the debt, but that separate ballot measure did not pass, with about 55% voting against and about 45% voting for. , also according to full but unofficial results.
“It’s always exciting to be able to do work for the kids,” school board member Khem Irby said Tuesday after the bond vote passed. “That’s the whole story.”
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Irby said she was sorry to see the sales tax hadn’t passed. Regarding the school bond, she was happy, but not surprised. Irby said she was never even nervous about passing the school bond because she had seen how school bond was supported by teachers and other school staff.
“It’s almost 10,000 people,” she said of district staff. “I think it’s important.”
Meanwhile, Alan Branson, a former county commissioner who won the Republican nomination on Tuesday to challenge a commissioners-general seat in November, shared that he filed a new version of his earlier complaint with the Board of Elections in the state on how the county and Board of Education announced the school bond package. The new version uses a form required by the state election commission for a campaign finance complaint.
Passing the school bond referendum allows county commissioners to issue the bonds, but does not require them to do so. If issued, the bonds are to be used to fund school facilities.
According to the school district and county, the money would help rebuild 18 existing schools, completely renovate 13 existing schools, build three new schools on new sites, provide more than $363 million in safety upgrades and technology in all schools and major repairs to a few additional schools.
Melvin “Skip” Alston, chairman of the county commissioners, said they would break up the borrowings into smaller pieces, rather than issuing all the bonds at once.
“That way we won’t have to pay interest on those funds until we start using them,” he said.
The district worked with architects on the design of eight major construction projects that are expected to be paid for with $300 million in bonds that voters authorized in 2020.
After those eight, the next construction projects on the district’s priority list are the reconstruction of Sternberger, Allen Jay, and Sumner Elementary Schools.
This list was compiled based on ratings from a group of outside consultants who conducted a study of the school district’s facilities several years ago and rated approximately 20% of its buildings as excellent, 34% good or fair. and 47% as poor or unsatisfactory. The ratings were based primarily on the condition of each school building and how well it was fitted out for modern education.
At the time, the consultants told district leaders that schools in Guilford County are similar to other comparable school districts in terms of the general shape of their buildings, but that conditions in some of the lower buildings are more severe than what they usually see.
The $300 million plus the $1.7 billion was expected to be more than enough to replace or renovate all schools with unsatisfactory scores, not including schools slated for closure. Darkening the picture a bit – projected costs were estimated before inflation started to soar amid supply chain issues, pent-up demand as the pandemic wanes and Russia’s war against Ukraine.
Using those same estimates, finishing the rest of the district facilities master plan would require an additional $700 million.
Contact Jessie Pounds at 336-373-7002 and follow @JessiePounds on Twitter.