NEW HANOVER COUNTY — New Hanover County and the school system are allocating $600,000 of its N.C. Education Lottery funds this year for new security hardware and entry vestibules on K-12 campuses.
Design and planning for the project will cost $250,000, and the remaining $350,000 will cover the price of the additions and renovations at “various locations,” according to a joint request to the N.C. Department of Public Instruction for release of the funds. The project starts this month and is expected to complete in December 2023.
Board of education members approved the application to NCDPI during its Sept. 7 session as part of its consent agenda. County commissioners also unanimously approved the request Monday after commissioner Rob Zapple pulled it from the consent agenda and asked for further details on the application.
“I recognize you don’t want to give away the barn on this one – it is security and safety – but I think you can provide us with a little more detail,” Zapple told staff.
New Hanover County Schools’ director of facility planning and construction, Leanne Lawrence, confirmed to commissioners the construction project was recommended in a 2019 school district safety audit. Compiled by True North Safety Group, the audit includes a budget, which she described as “basically a price tag for all of their recommendations.”
Lawrence said they are implementing the improvements campus by campus and have incrementally put $1 million toward the effort each year.
“I don’t want to discuss the specifics of what we’re doing related to the safety and security publicly because of, obviously, confidential issues,” Lawrence said.
In April, Port City Daily reported $1 million of last year’s lottery money was allotted to build small foyers at the main entrances of Lake Forest Academy and J.C. Roe Center. Visitors must enter through the vestibule and speak with the staff through an intercom before being granted access to the front office, creating a two-point verification system. The technology brings the older campuses up to standard with newer ones.
Investments from the audit are expected to ramp up after an Aug. 30 shooting at New Hanover High, which left one student injured. Four days after the incident, county commissioners took a surprise vote to authorize the county manager to dip into a $350-million pot of money from the sale of the once county-owned hospital to address youth violence. Teens have been increasingly getting their hands on guns since the start of the pandemic, law enforcement officials say.
To date, none of that money has been spent or allocated, but county manager Chris Coudriet has said staff plans to review the school district’s past audits to pinpoint improvements that have yet to receive funding.
Coudriet has made it clear most discussions involving the ongoing effort to guard campuses are under wraps, so as to not give the “playbook” to the wrong people. The county denied a public records request for the audit on similar grounds. Discussions about potential community investments, such as mental health resources, are also kept lowkey to ensure participants feel safe offering their opinions.
In total, NHCS is receiving $1.75 million from the lottery for capital projects this school year. Other allocations are $200,000 for a boiler replacement at Murrayville Elementary; $95,000 for a hot water heater replacement at Veterans Park; $250,000 in flooring repairs at Forest Hills Elementary; $27,500 for a roof replacement at Holly Shelter Middle; $350,000 for painting at Ashley High; and $235,000 for HVAC upgrades at Laney High.
Once the applications are approved, the board of education and commissioners must both pass budget amendments.
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