At the Tuesday, Feb. 2 Buncombe County Commissioners meeting — a meeting that lasted just under an hour, the Board heard from both Buncombe County and Asheville City schools on the needs of their facilities.
During presession, the Commissioners agreed to postpone discussion on the Hi-Wire Brewing economic development incentive and instead chose to dive straight into the rezoning request east of Black Mountain. Commissioner Holly Jones was absent from the evening’s meeting, leveling the political party playing field.
Party lines, however, did not make an appearance that evening, as all voted in agreement on all fronts.
Rezoning the old Madison Inn
The rezoning request was approved unanimously, 6-0, for a vacant property that was formerly occupied by the Madison Inn.
Built in 1959, the Madison Inn was already operational when the county later zoned the area and was deemed acceptable as a nonconforming use structure. A nonconforming use property “means any parcel of land, use of land, building or structure existing at the time of adoption of this article … that does not conform to the use or dimensional requirements of the district in which it is located.” The Madison Inn closed in July of 2014.
The applicant, hoping to house a bed and breakfast on the property, requested the property be rezoned from R-1 residential to R-2 residential, where bed and breakfasts are allowed under conditional use. If the building had remained in continuous use as a hotel, a rezoning would not be required under nonconforming use definitions. But because the property was vacant for nearly two years, a rezoning is required.
Family Justice Center presentation
Funds donated to the Buncombe County Service Foundation were allocated to the Family Justice Center, which gave a presentation on the center’s goals and needs.
The Family Justice Center, among other things, aims to reduce the stress and trauma faced by victims of domestic violence by offering all resources available to victims in one place.
Within the first three days following an assault, a victim typically must travel eight separate times, talk to 21 different people (and retell their story multiple times), complete 65 different forms, make five phone calls and wait 12 separate times for assistance, according to the FJC. This puts a tremendous amount of stress on victims, and often discourages them from either completing the process or even speaking up at all about an assault.
“The Family Justice Center will use the ‘safe space’ or ‘den’ model, where the victim is invited to a safe, comfortable room and representatives from the agencies come to them,” reads an information sheet on FJC.
The FJC needs assistance furnishing these ‘dens’ and children’s rooms to create these comfortable environments. Click here to learn what the Center needs and how to donate to the cause.
Buncombe County Schools needs
Every five years, public education districts in North Carolina must survey their needs and submit a detailed analysis to the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction Facility Needs Survey. The analysis first must be approved by the school board, and then by the county, before submitting to the state.
Though the state doesn’t predict a large increase in enrollment at Buncombe County Schools, projects are needed to improve these facilities regardless.
“Many of the facility needs that we’ve identified are not related to increase in capacity to our schools,” said Tim Fierle, director of facilities at BCS. “We’ve got 88 modulars at Buncombe County Schools, and I don’t recall purchasing a new modular in the last 10-12 years. So our modular stock is aging significantly.
“But as they get old, they, of course, require increasing maintenance,” he continued. “And there’s a point where it doesn’t make sense to put money into a modular. They all need work, and most of the additions that you see [in the needs survey] is a game plan to try to eliminate modulars and replace them with bricks and mortar.”
Other needs in BCS include boiler and chiller replacements, fire alarm replacements, renovated entrances to the schools to increase safety and serious renovations to the Community High School. Funding totals over the next five years are predicted to reach $56.6 million.
While the Commissioners were not voting on funding or approving any funding that evening, they did vote 6-0 to acknowledge that they had received, reviewed and approved the survey to send to the NCDPI.
Asheville City Schools needs
Asheville City Schools must also submit this survey, and have estimated the costs for its schools to be $67 million in the next five years.
Terrance McAllister, assistant superintendent of school support services at ACS, told the Board that one big problem at ACS is aging buildings: “Some of our buildings, especially our high school building, still has plumbing from back when the school was created in 1928.”
Looking over the study, Chairman David Gantt said, in a quizzical tone, “I understand in the short run, you’re going up. But this projects, over the next ten years, [ACS enrollment is] going to go down.”
McAllister replied that “It’s my understanding [that] we had a comprehensive assessment done on our buildings in 2014. So the DPI informed us to extract that information from that particular study. That’s the information you’re looking at.”
But, he said, “if you look at our status today, going forward, and based on the strategic plan we have in place, our numbers will increase dramatically over the next few years — which is why we’re in a conversation presently about restructuring our school districts to fit the needs we’re going to have.”
He also mentioned the abnormal increase in third, fourth and fifth graders to the ACS system and mentioned that influx is only going to put stress on both middle schools and the high school in the coming years.
“I’ve heard the number is either an 8 or 18 percent increase,” Gantt responded. “So it’s not just a little bit — you’re really growing.”
McAllister stated that the large increase is what began the conversation on redistricting and rethinking the school system as they try “to put a plan together to answer those particular needs and to make sure we have an appropriate location to educate our students.”
The Commissioners unanimously agreed to approve the analysis for the state to look over.
The next regular Buncombe County Board of Commissioners meeting will be held on Tuesday, March 1, at 4:30 p.m. on the third floor of the county building at 200 College St. The Commissioners will also hold a budget workshop on Tuesday, Feb. 16, at 4 p.m. in the same location, to hear funding requests from local nonprofits.