Athens Drive stadium a sticking point in squabble

khui@newsobserver.comMay 21, 2013 

RAY BLACK III — NEWSOBSERVER.COM

— A proposal to spend nearly $5 million to upgrade the stadium at Athens Drive High School has become a contentious sticking point as the Wake County school board and county commissioners squabble over details of a bond referendum.

“How are you going to answer the question that a football stadium is more important than additional seats?” asked Commissioner Paul Coble, a Republican, as he questioned the school system’s spending priorities.

Members of the school board and county commissioners met Thursday. Discussion of a $939.9 million school-construction program finished 90 minutes early in an attempt to defuse heated exchanges. The source of the tension, officials said, was the state Senate’s passage last Wednesday of a bill that would allow the Republican-led Wake County Board of Commissioners to take authority for school construction away from the Democratic-led school board.

The Athens Drive project is part of a list of $53.8 million in projects separate from the $939.9 million the school board wants funded by a bond issue. Most of the $53.8 million would come from school bonds the county has sold but whose use hasn’t been finalized.

School board members defended the Athens Drive project as providing needed health and safety upgrades to aging athletics facilities. Athens Drive parents have been lobbying both boards to fund the long-promised renovations, going as far as hiring a lawyer and threatening legal action.

“Athens Drive is reaching the point where, in order to sustain its outside athletic activities, there will need to be renovations or they’ll need to go somewhere else,” said Democrat school board member Tom Benton.

Coble continued to raise questions about the project list, arguing the school board hasn’t shown that it will try to get the most it can out of the bond issue.

“I don’t want us to walk away from the table all butterflies and unicorns thinking every thing is fine when I’m not sure it really is,” he said. “There’s more work to be done for us. I think we’re going to be surprised when the public says these numbers aren’t good enough.”

County finance staff project that it would take an $810 million bond referendum and $129.9 million in cash to cover all the projects. It would result in a 5.53 cent property tax rate increase, or $145.72 more per year on a $263,500 home.

Hui: 919-829-4534

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