Haywood County Schools will likely be on the hunt for a new central office location soon, with the announcement that Landmark Realty Group was awarded low-income housing tax credits to redevelop the old hospital building in Waynesville that currently houses the school administration offices.
The Haywood County Board of Education, Superintendent Bill Nolte and Associate Superintendents Trevor Putnam and Jill Barker are pushing the Haywood County Board of Commissioners to look further down the road, though, with a comprehensive overhaul to their administrative functions.
Based on a plan presented during the Aug. 19 meeting of the Haywood County commissioners, that overhaul could come in the form of a single, consolidated Educational Support Center that would combine and streamline services that are currently spread all across the county.
The plan focuses on consolidating offices and services spread across five different facilities throughout the county into a centralized education hub for the county.
Currently, the plan encompasses 14 Exceptional Children support offices and a large training room at the old Hazelwood School; the existing school board room and Instructional Technology Center at Central Haywood High School; the child nutrition services and storage at a facility in Crabtree; the offices, training and meeting rooms and records storage at the existing central office building in Waynesville; and the currently vacant Central Elementary School in Waynesville.
The new Educational Support Center would absorb many of those services and meeting spaces. According to a plan presented by Putnam during the Aug. 19 meeting, the proposed building would incorporate all of the training and meeting spaces, the Instructional Technology Center and all of its related equipment, the nutrition services offices and storage, the board room and offices for all of the support staff and Exceptional Children support staff. The proposed building would encompass 42,750 square feet of total floor space, and would require a tract of land covering roughly five acres.
By moving the current board room from Central Haywood High School to a central office, the former gym that it currently occupies could then be restored into a gym for Central Haywood, which would represent a significant cost savings for the county. The upstairs portion of CHHS, where the technology staff are currently stationed, could then be repurposed to house the Alternative Learning Center, which would consolidate support staff and reduce their need to travel from facility to facility.
The plan would also entirely free up the space the school system occupies at the old Hazelwood School, as well as the Crabtree property that currently houses nutrition services, allowing the county to deal with those properties as they see fit.
Included in the presentation was a discussion of the possible need to preserve Central Elementary School as a site for a potential additional elementary facility in the near future. Putnam pointed to the striking growth in residential development in Haywood County in coming years, coupled with the potential for even more growth if the old hospital is redeveloped, as evidence that Haywood may soon see an influx of young families needing classroom space for their children.
The proposed facility represents a significant expenditure, but Superintendent Bill Nolte pointed out that the new building wouldn’t represent an increase in the amount of space required to operate — it would simply put all of the existing square footage into a single location.
“The square footage we’re asking for isn’t any different than what we have now,” Nolte said. “We’re not asking the board for a large increase in space. We’re trying to capture all the space we currently have in Crabtree, in Hazelwood, in our current office and near Central Haywood High School. We’re just trying to consolidate it.”
The benefit of the plan is that it takes a number of facilities that are currently serving a limited number of purposes and puts them all in a single building with only one set of overhead costs, Putnam said.
“The beauty of it is — when you think about a single building and what it really saves you — it only has one roof. It has four walls,” Putnam said. “You’re maintaining a whole lot less. You also aren’t spreading out your staff to various locations, there’s not as much mowing that goes with that and it adds up to a huge increase in efficiency if you centralize things.”
The proposed facility could have a pronounced impact on the school system’s overhead in terms of utilities and repair costs, according to Putnam.
“The thing is, with a new structure, new construction means more energy efficiency, which is a savings on utilities,” Putnam said. “If you’re looking at it from an investment standpoint, a project this size, no. You would never save it back in utility costs. But over time, you’re eliminating waste. The need to operate heating and air continues to exist, the need to have lights continues to exist. The need to repair roofs continues to exist. But you eliminate a lot of waste.”
Nolte gave the board an example of the inefficiency of the current system for school staff in a recent training session held at the facility in Hazelwood.
“What has to happen, literally, several people have to leave our office, they have to go down there and take supplies, usually the day before, and set up for that meeting,” he said. “So that’s time they’re losing driving, it’s mileage we’re paying them for their vehicle, and then the day after they have to do the same thing.”
For school board meetings, Nolte said, the same process is repeated but staff have to drive to the current board room in Clyde. For meetings that go late where a meal is provided, a school nutrition staff member has to bring food from the existing facility in Crabtree to the board room.
The $12.6 million price tag for the proposed building is high enough to give any governing board pause, but Putnam argued that the alternative would be to replace or repair each of these separate components as they fail over a number of years. Not taking into consideration any of the lost savings from increasing the system’s efficiency, a piecemeal approach to the issue would represent a massive increase in cost.
Putnam outlined four major expenditures that would need to be addressed in coming years if the Educational Support Center proposal is abandoned — a new gym at Central Haywood along with a shop class replacement, at a cost of $5.1 million; a new elementary school to account for population growth, at a price of $27 million; a new gym for that elementary school, at a cost of $3.9 million; and new offices and meeting spaces at a cost of $3.6 million. Altogether, the price tag for those projects alone comes out to $39.6 million, well over triple the cost of the proposed consolidated facility.
The road aheadUltimately, the project is still in its very formative stages and is entirely contingent on Landmark Realty moving forward with the re-development. The company has not yet accepted the tax credits as awarded, but the deadline to decide is Sept. 15 and representatives from Landmark have confirmed their intention to proceed as planned.
If the redevelopment project moves forward, the central office will need to relocate. How and where that occurs remains to be determined, but Nolte urged the county board to consider their proposal with the potential long-term benefits in mind.
“The imminent move two Decembers from now, we understand that just has to happen and we have to work very cooperatively with you to pull that off. And we will. That’s our commitment,” Nolte said. “What we’re asking for is a simultaneous plan to make us efficient in terms of our administrative infrastructure for the next 20 or 30 years, or maybe longer than that.”
For the plan to come to fruition, there is a great deal of work still to be done for both the school system and the county board. County Manager Bryant Morehead said he would begin the process of studying the feasibility and the logistics of the project as soon as possible.
“This is a big project,” he said. “We probably need to get together with school staff fairly quickly to start talking about the logistics of site selection, alternatives to buildings and things like that.”