MONROE – Union County wants more study time before deciding whether to put a school bond referendum on the ballot.
Union County Public Schools hoped to convince commissioners June 15 to put a $130 million referendum on the November ballot, but county leaders opted instead to form a committee to evaluate future school needs. The committee’s work could potentially lead to a referendum in March or November 2022.
“At this time, unfortunately, we do not have sufficient information necessary to determine the escalation factors, inflation and timing of available funding,” County Manager Mark Watson told commissioners.
In the meantime, the committee would evaluate the capital needs of both UCPS and South Piedmont Community College over the next five to 10 years. The committee would include representatives from the county, UPCS and SPCC.
UCPS’s bond request was primarily designed to address aging schools, according to school board member Kathy Heintel.
“We have five high schools that are 60-plus years of age and we have some inequity in our facilities and some inadequacy with respect to modern-day high schools,” Heintel said.
UCPS envisioned putting Forest Hills High and East Union Middle on the same campus to share fields like clusters at Marvin Ridge and Porter Ridge. A new high school would be built, allowing East Union to go into Forest Hills’ old space, which would also be renovated.
The plan also called for bathrooms and meeting spaces for bus drivers, as well as field houses, for Porter Ridge and Marvin Ridge high schools. Cuthbertson Middle would have gotten a five classroom addition.
Commissioner Stony Rushing asked about the high growth coming to Union County.
“A lot of the municipalities have approved a lot of high-density development that would add to our schools and in some places overwhelm our schools,” Heintel replied. “But until some of those get going, we have no idea what’s the build-out of any of those subdivisions.”
Union County currently has outstanding debt of $545 million, including nearly $353 million tied to general obligation bonds for UCPS ($238.5 million), SPCC ($35.6 million), public safety ($43.6 million) and other departments.
The county’s debt service payments toward its general obligation bonds will total $43 million in 2021. This amount will dwindle annually until 2040, when the county will pay nearly $4.7 million.