Almost $15 million in state construction grants for schools

by Diana Matthews dianamatthews@nrcolumbus.com

Both local school systems will have millions of dollars in additional construction money, thanks to a Needs Based Grant from the state Department of Public Instruction.

The Columbus County School system has been awarded $10.6 million, and the Whiteville City Schools system has been awarded $4.3 million. State Superintendent Mark Johnson announced the grants this evening. Statewide, 13 school systems shared a total of $141 million this year. The funds are marked specifically for construction of school buildings in economically distressed areas. Last year’s Needs Based Grants totaled $30 million.

 Rebecca Owens' kindergarten class enjoys a sunny day on the playground at Whiteville Primary School

Rebecca Owens' kindergarten class enjoys a sunny day on the playground at Whiteville Primary School

“We are extremely grateful,” said Columbus County Schools Interim Superintendent Jonathan Williams. “We’re excited about the potential things this grant will enable us to do.

“With the money we (already) have to plan new construction, things were tight,” Williams said. The schools will continue to make frugal decisions so that “this money is going to go a long way,” he said, but “it will enable us to do things we want to do.”

Whiteville City Schools superintendent Kenny Garland broke the news to principals and audience members attending the Whiteville Board of Education’s monthly meeting only about an hour after receiving confirmation of the award from Johnson. Of the 13 systems obtaining grant money, Garland said, Whiteville City Schools is the only city system.

The announcement came at the end of a presentation by architect Paul Boney and two of his associates at the LS3P firm, in which they outlined details and costs of the Whiteville High School construction project that is soon to be advertised for bidding.

Garland agreed with board members that it would be appropriate to send letters to the Department of Public Instruction and to the General Assembly, thanking them for the support. He also commented that $4.3 million will not cover the WHS project, and “we have needs at the other schools,” so he hoped voters would approve the quarter-cent sales tax increase on the Nov. 6 ballot for continued renovations and maintenance.