Durham Public Schools need $186M in renovations, county can only provide half

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DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) – Durham Public Schools officials said the system needs more than $180 million dollars in renovations and new building projects. However, the county said it can only provide half of that.

In a few weeks, the county and the school district have to agree on a tax referendum number for school building projects and renovations. Right now, the district and the board are about $90 million dollars apart on that number.

“This is of great concern to us,” said Heidi Carter, chair of the Durham Board of Education

She said the list of district needs includes two brand new schools, large-scale renovations to another school, security upgrades, and other improvements in schools such as roofs, paving and lighting. The total cost is about $186 million.

The county said it can do a tax referendum for $90 million.

“We will look at every project line item by line item and we’ll do our best to weigh the tradeoffs,” said Carter.

The district has several possible plans for the money that is available. District officials said they are leaning towards using what is being offered to build the new schools and putting the other renovations off.

However, that’s the exact opposite of how the county thinks the money should be spent.

“We have a real situation here on how to respond to this,” said Michael Page, Durham County Board of Commissioner Chairman.

Page said members of the commission are not comfortable investing in a higher bond referendum on tax payers to invest in new schools.

“We have such an issue in our community with some of our schools that are really under-utilized. And so we’re trying to determine if it’s best for us to build a school right now with these schools with empty classrooms,” said Page.

Carter said even if the district rezoned to fill empty seats from overcrowded classrooms, the expected growth in Durham County over the next few years will require new schools sooner than later.

One option being considered by both parties is taking the low-end option now, and applying for a second bond referendum in the next few years to meet the total list of demands.

Carter said she feels the board and the county are close to working it out.

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