ACS asks who will pay to revamp school site

MONEY TALK: Recent comments by the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners have some members of the Asheville City Board of Education, pictured, questioning the future costs associated with the former Asheville Primary School site on Haywood Road. Screenshot courtesy of Asheville City Board of Education

At the May 7 Buncombe County Board of Commissioners meeting, ADW Architects presented a conceptual plan for the former Asheville Primary School site on Haywood Road. The proposed redesign includes a library, an EMS station and a new maintenance and operation building for Asheville City Schools.

Some commissioners expressed concerns that maintenance and storage may not be the best use for a property that is located on one of the city’s most urban corridors.

A week later, at its May 13 meeting, the Asheville City Board of Education questioned the financial obligations associated with the plan, which also includes a prekindergarten facility at Hall Fletcher Elementary and converting the current site of Montford North Star Academy into ACS’ alternative school.

“If we are giving up the Asheville Primary School building, where we currently have our operations, who is paying for the construction of the operations center?” asked school board Vice Chair Amy Ray, who said she would find it difficult to surrender any rights to the property without receiving money from the county.

The county anticipates paying for the library and emergency medical services facilities but expects the school board to pay for some of the additional buildings and renovations out of its capital funds budget, County Manager Avril Pinder told the school board. No price estimates were included in the ADW Architects presentation.

“That answer concerns me because if all we have is the fund that we already have to support Asheville High and all of the other buildings that have basic maintenance needs, it would be very difficult to fund anything new out of that unless we get a major influx into that fund,” Ray responded. 

Board Chair George Sieburg, who serves on the county’s School Capital Fund Commission, explained that there is already a list of priorities awaiting school capital funds. If the board decided to prioritize the proposed pre-K or maintenance facility, then something else would be moved further down the list of priorities. To illustrate changing priorities, Sieburg said the commission decided not to pay for concession stands at the middle school ballfield this year as other projects were determined to be higher on the priority list.

Ray pointed out that if the school fund struggles just to pay for middle school concession stands and regular building maintenance, then a brand-new facility would be out of reach without funding from the county or other sources. 

“All of those conversations still have to happen,” said Pinder. “Even though we have numbers, we are still several, several months away from coming back to you with more details.” She said this presentation was only intended to show how the site could meet county and school board priorities.  

School consolidation study time crunch 

Charlotte-based Prismatic Services Inc. has begun visits to every city and county school as part of its work to draft a feasibility study of consolidating Asheville City Schools and Buncombe County Schools, a task mandated by the state legislature. The team of consultants expects to spend 75 days on-site during its contract. The firm will deliver a final report by the end of December and hold public meetings no later than Friday, Jan. 31.

That timeline limits the county and city school boards’ ability to develop their own recommendations based on the study’s findings, which they must present to the state General Assembly no later than Saturday, Feb. 15.

Rachael Sawyer, the county’s strategic partnerships director, explained that while the legislation is clear that the boards will need to present their own recommendations to the legislature, the two school boards do not necessarily have to submit the same recommendations.

Asheville board member Rebecca Strimer suggested working with Prismatic to receive updates along the way rather than waiting for the final report at the end of the year. Sieburg suggested making a push at the beginning of the school year to make sure that the community is aware of the study to encourage more community input during the process. 

“With the benefit of time right now, I’m interested in thinking about how we can maximize our interactions with Prismatic in December to put ourselves on a trajectory for being successful in getting to the Feb. 15 deadline,” Strimer said. 

Sawyer said she would ask Prismatic to meet with the governing boards in December before delivering its final proposals. 

Editor’s note: This story was updated May 20, 2024, to provide minor clarifications.


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5 thoughts on “ACS asks who will pay to revamp school site

  1. Mike Rains

    Asheville parents are afraid a merger would hurt their children’s education.

    Buncombe County parents are afraid a merger would hurt their children’s education.

    Neither of these concerns are valid. A merged system will offer more opportunities for both groups, and much greater overall operating efficieny by eliminating duplicative adminstration (incluidng school boards) and operational functions;
    moreover, the operation and management record of Asheville City Schools has been abysmal., in my opinion.

    Since the state is providing the political will/leadership on this long needed merger, it is not unreasonable to assume they will remove the per pupil spending criteria that is often brought into the conversation.

    Of course none of our political leaders will touch this lightening rod. It would be refreshing though to see a few stand up for the merger though.

    • Think about it

      Just curious, why (in your opinion) do you think a merger will change the outcomes of a poorly managed and organized system? The people and hierarchies responsible for the mismanagement are still in operation.

      It might be a good idea not to state your opinion in such definitive terms and tell the parents what is and isn’t “valid”.

      And, I guess your assertion that merging won’t hurt the education of people’s children is based on the fact that it seems impossible for either system to be mismanaged at a lower level than currently demonstrated?

      • Mike Rains

        Buncombe County Schools are better managed than ACS. BCS is the larger of the two systems; thus my conclusion.

        I am a parent of a child who went through the public school system in Charlotte.
        Most parental concerns were way overblown and lost sight of the greater good. It seems these days that too many parents want the schools to teach “their world view of things for their children” as opposed to basic learning.

        As long as students have good discipline and classrooms are well controlled, learning can happen and success is more in the hands of the family than the school. IMO.

        • Think about it

          At least you are finally trying to caveat your opinions instead of continually making declarative statements where your opinion is the only option or valid reasoning. Just because you say it loudest and longest doesn’t make it right.

          And, just for good measure, anyone attempting to purport that either or any of these local entities are functioning at a high or reasonably efficient capacity or executing at anything above a base level of functionality is likely fooling themselves. So, take that as you will, because history would suggest you don’t take slights or criticism well.

  2. John Brigham

    Real information about real subjects. What a concept. Thank you Mt Express. I like the phrase “education is a messy business”. Maybe consolidation of the two district is the perfect jolt for all concerned. Many of the voices in favor of the merger are powerful and surprising.

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