Current Credit Crunch Delaying Chatham County School

With credit markets tightening, Chatham County officials say their plans to build a fourth high school in the northeastern part of the county have been delayed as very few of the 12,000-14,000 homes approved there have been built. The County is focusing its school infrastructure investments in renovations to Northwood High School in Pittsboro and completing a new middle school in the Briar Chapel area. Chatham County Schools Superintendent Robert Logan says the renovations to Northwood should be finished by August 2009 and the new middle school will be done by August of 2010.

Here is the full story as reported by Lisa A. Young of The Herald-Sun.

Chatham County officials say that while hard economic times have definitely had an impact on capital projects, the news isn’t all bad. With banks holding onto money, school boards and governments across the country are struggling to fund projects like buildings and renovations. Chatham County Schools Superintendent Robert Logan said that while that the county has a good bond rating, loans simply aren’t available — and some projects may be delayed. “Nobody is lending money. Even if they were, interest rates have jumped sky high,” he said. Logan said the district’s first priority is completing renovations to Northwood High School in Pittsboro. The renovations have an anticipated completion date of August 2009 and are expected to ease some of the overcrowding at NHS, which is about 200 students over capacity. A new middle school in the Briar Chapel area is next on the district’s list of priorities. That project would be complete by August 2010, and would create the first school in Chatham with grades 6-8. Logan said two of the district’s K-8 schools, North Chatham and Perry Harrison, also have a serious overcrowding problem — North Chatham has about 20 modular units, while Perry Harrison has four.

Slowing growth

District administrators had planned to build a fourth high school in the northeast portion of the county by August 2011, but trouble in the housing and credit markets has slowed growth in the county — fewer homes mean fewer students — and eased the need for a new high school for now. George Lucier, chairman of the Chatham County Board of Commissioners, said some 12,000-14,000 homes have been approved, but won’t be built until homeowners can secure the financing. “It’s given us some breathing room, but we do need to get that middle school done as soon as we can. [North Chatham] is 40 percent over capacity and there are too many trailers,” Lucier said, adding that the middle school will stay on schedule and the Northwood renovations will move forward as planned.
Lucier pointed out that many school district needs — restroom renovations, repairs to unsafe bleachers and science lab improvements, etc. — can still be paid for out of the county’s general fund. Logan said one advantage of a bad economy is that building costs have gone down, making it easier for the district to get competitive bids. “We’re very appreciative of the commissioners’ understanding,” Logan said. “They’ve prioritized the needs of education in this district and they’re doing all they can to get these facilities approved.” Lucier said he’s “fairly optimistic” the county will be able to accomplish its goals once the credit markets improve. “We may have to delay, but I don’t think [a delay] will have a permanent adverse effect on the county,” he said. In addition to school improvements, Chatham County has several capital projects planned or under way, including a judicial building and a library in Pittsboro.

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