Commissioners vote 5-2 in favor of funding for new school

Published 6:09 pm Tuesday, December 5, 2023

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The Beaufort County Board of Commissioners voted 5-2 in favor of funding a local match to a state grant that would allow Beaufort County Schools to build a new, consolidated elementary school in Washington. 

Commissioners Frankie Waters, Jerry Langley, Ed Booth, John Rebholz and Randy Walker voted in favor, but Hood Richardson and Stan Deatherage voted against. 

Pending final approval from the Beaufort County Board of Education, the school district could apply for a $42 million grant from the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction to consolidate John Cotten Tayloe and Eastern Elementary schools into one building behind Eastern Elementary School. The school board may give final approval at their next meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 12. 

The grant comes from the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction’s Needs Based Public School Building Capital Fund. It requires a local match from county governments which amounts to $10 million for Beaufort County. The match would be paid over the course of three years. According to County Finance Director Anita Radcliffe, the first installment would be $1 million during the 2023-2024 school year, then $4.5 million during the 2024-2025 school year, then another $4.5 million during the 2025-2026 school year. 

Beaufort County Schools would like to demolish the current Eastern Elementary facility given its age and the numerous repairs it requires annually. 

Superintendent of Beaufort County Schools, Dr. Matthew Cheeseman shared at the county commissioners meeting on Monday, Dec. 4 that both Eastern Elementary and John Cotten Tayloe Schools were built in the 1960’s and both schools have issues with plumbing, electric, HVAC, broken floor tiles and have required asbestos removal in the past. 

In addition, the school district feels having one building would enhance students’ learning experience, because they would not frequently change campuses and a new school building would be safer than the current design of Eastern Elementary, he said. 

Students in Washington start by attending Pre-Kindergarten and first grade students at Eastern Elementary then they transfer to John Cotten Tayloe to attend second and third grades. They then transfer to John Small Elementary to attend fourth and fifth grades. 

Specifically referring to Eastern Elementary, Cheeseman told commissioners “the design of the building was maybe a great design for the 1960’s. It’s not a great design for where we are today.” 

At Eastern Elementary, students have to walk outside to get to other classrooms on campus. 

“Bizzare” is how Commissioner Walker described the school’s layout adding that it takes a “tremendous amount of time” for students and staff members to prepare to go to another building on campus. 

Walker was a student in one of the first classes to attend Eastern Elementary in the 1960’s, he shared. 

Should a new consolidated elementary school be built, it would serve an estimated 900 students. Eastern Elementary’s current enrollment is at 419 students, John Cotten Tayloe’s is at 350 students. When Pre-Kindergarten students are added, the present amount of students using the new building would be more than 800. 

Beaufort County Schools has until January 5 to apply for the grant.