Orange County needs an outside consultant for the continued development of school capital in Orange County Schools and Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools, according to a report by the Capital Needs Work Group.
The report was presented during the Orange County Board of County Commissioners' Sept. 29 joint meeting with the two school districts.
The work group, created in the fall of 2021 following a petition by Commissioner Jean Hamilton, includes elected officials and staff from both school districts to focus on the capital needs of schools, especially older ones.
Orange County funds CHCCS and OCS, including more than 20,000 students and 2,500 teachers and staff.
CHCCS and OCS rank first and third respectively in statewide per-pupil funding. Despite this, a review by the workgroup found that funding availability is still a “significant issue” for both districts.
The group projected that up-to-date school developments could cost up to $500 million due to increased construction costs since its last cost estimate.
Of the 32 school campuses and seven school administrative offices in Orange County, over half are older than 50 years and need repair, according to the report.
The report also said that Orange County’s current model for school funding is based on available funds and capacity for debt rather than school needs.
As a result, the work group recommended that the county look for alternative funding sources.
The group recommends that the county finds an independent outside consultant with a specialty in school facilities to assess and suggest improvements for the school districts’ planning, design, construction and funding.
These improvements would then be included in a 10-year plan, which has already been started by both districts to target school facility needs, according to the report.
“We already know that resources are limited, and yet together we need to look for ways, and as County Commissioners, to make sure we have not overlooked something,” Hamilton said.
The work group’s recent report said it is interested in making better-informed decisions regarding the schools’ capital needs and improving county-wide efficiency and transparency.
Hamilton said Guilford County Schools has developed a similar process, dedicating $2 billion to updating schools.
The report also said the county should update its School Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance (SAPFO) – created to ensure school capacities can meet population growth – to reflect current conditions better.
Carrie Doyle, member of the OCS Board of Education, said it is urgent to update the SAPFO because it does not properly demonstrate the growth schools will continue to experience.
She also said having a consultant to make a timeline in comparison to Guilford County helps to make the plan more realistic.
“It seems like a realistic and practical approach that is holistic for both districts and we really desperately need that so we can be ready to move forward,” Doyle said.
Deputy Superintendent for Operations of CHCCS Al Ciarochi said that while the district has an architectural consultant who has a keen understanding of central North Carolina construction costs, having a second party could introduce a new way to address standing problems.
“This is not a simple fix,” Ciarochi said. “And we’re gonna have to find ways to, I’ll say, ‘peel that onion’ and decide how we can impact as many of our schools at the greatest rate possible.”
He added that having an outside perspective can help the school districts know they are making the best-informed decision possible.
@DTHCityState | firstname.lastname@example.org
To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.