Agreement finalized regarding old Benhaven Elementary

Commissioners, school board set to approve project

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An agreement as to the fate of the old Benhaven Elementary School appears to be finalized.

The Harnett County Board of Commissioners and the Harnett County Board of Education are set to approve an agreement that will eventually hand the building over to the county.

Commissioners approved the proposal at the Monday meeting and Harnett County Board of Education members are anticipated to do the same at their meeting tonight.

Under the terms of the agreement, the board of education will maintain ownership of the school throughout the renovations which are planned by the county due to the use of proceeds from a bond issue used to finance the construction of the new Benhaven Elementary School.

Once renovations are completed, the school board will pass a resolution declaring the building no longer suitable for use as a school and will donate the property to the county.

Assistant County Manager Brian Haney says the project is still at a point where plans for the site are still being developed. He told The Daily Record this will be a chance for the county to take over a site shortly after its initial use, thus giving the county a better opportunity to use facilities that are still viable, unlike previous projects where the county has taken over, but well after a time when buildings and other facilities at the location were salvagable.

“The Benhaven project offers a unique opportunity for the county to take a site that was recently occupied as a vibrant part of the community and renovate the campus to provide services that will benefit the community,” Mr. Haney said. “Unfortunately with previous projects, facilities were allowed to sit for years after occupation, which limited the potential for reuse or made the cost of renovation too substantial to justify. Here, we will be able to go in shortly after occupation and preserve the majority of the campus through renovation to provide additional amenities in an underserved area of the county.”

County officials have not yet set a permanent plan, but do intend to include multiple agencies and multiple uses for the site. The first step will be a partial demolition of portions of the old school. Plans are for the building which housed the cafeteria to be taken down to allow additional parking and access to the site.

The remaining buildings are going to be rennovated to bring them up to current codes to allow for use as a community center.

“We anticipate parks and recreation will provide services out of the building that house the gymnasium, and that the library will tentatively provide services out of the building that housed pre-K programming,” Mr. Haney said. “Please note that this is not intended to be the ultimate Western Harnett Library, but it offers an opportunity to increase library services in this part of the county.

County officials anticipate the site will bring several services to the area, both county and partner organizations.

“We anticipate multiple entities will have space in the two-story building,” he said. “However, the current plan is to bring it up to code for whatever may be located inside the building, which will require an elevator so that the second floor can be used, due to ADA compliance.”

Funding for the project, which also affects when county ownership can take place, came from the 2017 General Obligation School Bond Funds.

Because money was used from the bonds, the school must maintain ownership until after the improvements are made.

A total of $1.9 million are being earmarked for the overall project with the largest amount, $750,000, designated for actual construction.

Demolition costs were estimated at $100,000 with equipment and furniture projected to cost $200,000 and design and construction administration estimated at $250,000. An additional $700,000 is being set aside as contingency funds and for potential land acquistion costs beyond the school grounds.

Mr. Haney stresses those figures are estimates and the amounts are subject change as the project continues to be developed. He also explained how the funding was ultimately obtained.

The funds are not directly a part of the $100 million school bond approved by voters in 2014, although it is connected to the 2014 school bond.

“When bonds were sold to finance construction of the new Benhaven Elementary School, the bonds were sold at a premium, meaning we received additional money than the actual bond amount,” he said. “A portion of the bond premium is being used to pay for the renovation/demolition at the former school.”

Once the project gets started, county officials estimate it will take anywhere from 12 to 18 months to complete.

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