August 21, 2018 11:04:56 AM
Mary Pollitz - [email protected]
Oktibbeha County Board of Supervisors on Monday approved offering $1.7 million for a building on Lynn Lane for the new Starkville-Oktibbeha Consolidated School District's administrative building.
Once the SOCSD administration building is secured, the county will swap it for ownership of unused buildings of the defunct Oktibbeha County School District, which SOCSD took over after the city and county districts consolidated in 2015.
Supervisors voted 3-2 to purchase the roughly 10,000 square-foot Lynn Lane building, a Mississippi Department of Health building now owned by CMMG Enterprises. John Montgomery of District 1 and Bricklee Miller of District 4 opposed offering the bid.
Board of Supervisors President Orlando Trainer, who supported the decision, said the county would take on the old East (Crawford) and West Oktibbeha High (Maben) campuses, both vacant, as well as the old East Elementary in Clayton Village, which SOCSD now uses as its Alternative Education Programs (renamed The Learning Center), as part of the deal.
"There's quite a bit of history in those campuses," Trainer said. "To allow those facilities just to sit up and not utilize them would be a tragic situation for the county."
SOCSD would still use its Greensboro Center headquarters for administrative functions after the deal, district public information officer Nicole Thomas told The Dispatch. But the new space would give the district the opportunity to relocate offices now housed in the bottom floor of the former County Education Building on Main Street, as well as reclaiming classroom space on campuses where other administrative functions are being housed.
"We are fully committed to the Greensboro Center being fully occupied," Thomas said. "The Greensboro Center will always be an important part of our school district and the historic Greensboro neighborhood."
Superintendent Eddie Peasant echoed Trainer's sentiments, saying he hopes the deal will repurpose the former county school buildings for the best uses.
"Just as we expect the Greensboro Center to be a center for (Starkville), my hope is those buildings out in the county will be the same for those communities," he said.
While the district could deed West High to the county, it would have to lease the East campuses to the county since they are located on 16th Section land, Thomas said. A lease for East Elementary could not be completed until SOCSD determined where to relocate The Learning Center.
Potential private uses for county buildings
Board Attorney Rob Roberson said the county would be financially responsible for the building maintenance at the former campus buildings but could reap financial benefits if the county leases the buildings to private parties. Trainer said he hopes SOCSD will help with some of the maintenance costs, but has not come to any contractual terms yet.
Trainer said the old campuses could be used for community development. For example, he said a partnership between Community Counseling Services and the county could utilize West Oktibbeha High School to help members in the community, and the private nonprofit East Oktibbeha Education Association wants to be involved with the East Oktibbeha campuses.
"There's been a lot of support out around those campuses as it relates to wanting to add some life and use those facilities to enhance those communities," Trainer said after the meeting. "The financial benefit will probably somewhat be an investment on the front end. Those community programs will enhance those communities and change the quality of life dramatically. We seem to think there's a lot of potential out there."
Dispute over county financial status
Miller and Montgomery both openly opposed the motion during the meeting due to the financial strains to the county, as well as sheer confusion for the property acquisition.
"The school properties have interest in them from other entities, and I question why the school board cannot work with those entities," Miller said. "Why can't they lease those properties directly to them?"
Miller, who said she had not seen potential costs this would have on the county, even suggested that taxes could increase with the new costs of the school campuses and the $1.7 million bid. She claims the city's reserve fund is depleted.
"The vote was made without knowing the costs," Miller said. "The county resources are depleted, we have no more money in the rainy day fund."
Trainer said the Miller's account that no money exists in the reserve fund isn't accurate but could not speak to what was in the fund currently.
"We are not designed to be savings account. We are designed to provide services," Trainer said in response to Miller's comments.
County Administrator Emily Garrard told The Dispatch she's not sure what Miller is calling the "rainy day fund," but the county's "special escrow fund" that it uses for functions such as grant matches holds about $1.2 million.
Still, Montgomery agreed with Miller about county involvement being an unnecessary step in revitalizing the former school campuses.
"It's not that I don't want to do it, it's just something that we can't afford as a county," Montgomery said to The Dispatch after the meeting. "... It would be simpler on both parties, if we weren't so much the middleman. (SOCSD) could just get the right partners in those buildings, which they can do, to help offset the cost of those buildings. That was my reasoning behind it."