Thursday, June 20, 2024

Pender identifies land for school bond projects, RO plant for $13.9M

Pender County is under contract to purchase 788 acres for an RO plant and a 146-acre tract for a new elementary and middle school — both located near U.S. 17 and N.C. 210. (Google earth photo)

PENDER COUNTY — A little more than 1,000 acres of land is under contract in Pender County to move forward projects necessary to keep up with the area’s excessive growth.

County staff is currently assessing the acquisition, which could have Pender doling out $13.9 million for five parcels to secure land for new schools and a reverse osmosis water treatment plant.

READ MORE: ‘Building to capacity:’ Pender commissioners, BOE talk needs as they close in on land purchase

“We are under contract for every parcel that’s related to projects in the works,” county manager David Andrews said. “It’s really important for the future of Pender County.”

He said once the school bond passed in November, staff began diligently searching for appropriate properties for a new elementary school, middle school, a bus maintenance facility and a new central services office.

“We had already been looking at some possibilities before then, but we really couldn’t get serious until the bond passed,” Andrews told Port City Daily on a call Friday.

The county is currently under contract for two parcels, $7 million together, for Pender County Schools for the elementary and middle schools to share. A 146-acre tract near the intersection of North Carolina Highway 210 and U.S. Highway 17 would be the proposed location for the $111-million K-8 campus to mitigate overcrowding.

In January, the district reported 90% capacity for its buildings with a total of 10,988 students — an 8.5% increase from 2021.

The new campus, with a combined capacity to hold 2,000 students, would include an elementary, for kindergarten through fifth grade, and a middle, for sixth-through-eighth-grade.

Devane said the land under contract would give Pender County Schools room for a possible high school addition in the future.

A third tract, 50 acres in Rocky Point near Rocky Point Elementary, is under contract for $1.5 million.

Devane said that property is being considered for expanding Rocky Point Elementary School, building a $17-million school bus maintenance garage and constructing a new $21-million central services building. All are funded through the $178-million bond.

Andrews said the Pender School Board has been involved with the process, and vetted the land before it was approved.

“Moving forward, [securing land] was a really key ingredient,” he said. “We have to have the land first before we build schools, and before we design or build any projects.”

Devane said the county has also identified two parcels, totaling 788 acres, adjacent to the potential future school site that would be ideal for the RO plant. Pender is under contract for that land for $5.4 million.

The county initially purchased a 182-acre property along U.S. 17 for the school system early last year, but the board of education indicated it might not be suitable for its needs. It wanted something closer to the U.S. 17 and the HighwayN.C. 210 area.

As a result, Pender County utilities director Kenny Keel asked in September to use the property for construction of a reverse osmosis plant. Commissioners denied it to retain the land as the only possible back-up for schools.

The 182 acres purchased last year do not have an identified use just yet. 

Pender County engaged Summit Engineer and ECS Southeast are handling its due diligence process to see if the sites are viable for their building needs. The companies will study the wetlands and location, potential environmental issues, soil samples and geotechnical factors.

“We’re still carving out what we need for the RO plant,” Devane said, of the 1,200-acre tract, located near Berry Patch Road and Whispering Pines Court, off Highway 210.

“[It] gives us a viable site for current and future growth,” he added.

The new water plant will increase capacity to reach an additional 25,000 to 42,000 residents. Last September, Keel said  the Pender County Utilities system as a whole is using about 2 million gallons per day, but over half of that is coming from the U.S. 17 corridor. With more developments being built and approved, additional capacity is needed to serve residents in the Hampstead area.

“There’s really significant growth particularly residential housing and there’s a need to get the water plant under way,” Andrews said.

The properties, all approved for purchase in the last month, are undergoing due diligence through the end of the year.


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