Local Government Commission approves Pender Co.’s request for new schools, improvements

The North Carolina Local Government Commission unanimously voted to approve Pender County’s request for approval for $178 million in general obligation bonds.
Published: Jul. 10, 2023 at 4:49 PM EDT
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RALEIGH, N.C. (WECT) - The North Carolina Local Government Commission unanimously voted to approve Pender County’s request for approval for $178 million in general obligation bonds to build new schools and improve others.

Voters in Pender County approved a referendum last year to obtain general obligation bonds for the new school projects.

Among the projects that were approved in the referendum were:

  • A new 1,200-student 6-8 middle school ($67,636,800)
  • a new 800-student K-5 elementary school ($43,920,000)
  • renovation of Topsail Middle School for a grade 9-10 Academy due to overcrowding at the high school ($22,601,432)
  • an elementary school addition ($1,219,065)
  • rebuilding the Burgaw Middle School cafeteria ($4,272,000)
  • construct a new Central Services and Maintenance Building ($21,000,000)
  • and construct an 8-bay garage/maintenance building ($17,121,600).

During Tuesday’s meeting, State Treasurer Dale Folwell asked Pender County Manager David Andrews why only 53 percent of voters signed off on the referendum last year.

“You’re saying the margin was not a result of something in this bond project schedule that was highly controversial?” Folwell asked.

Andrews says the county’s growth is the reason for the divide, and says the county is transitioning from an agriculture-based economy to a tourism-based economy.

“Community wide I think there’s a really good, you know, understanding that with the growth that’s happening on the east side, particularly in the Hampstead area, schools are reaching capacity and this is a very much needed capital project,” Andrews said.

Pender County Schools Chief Officer of Auxiliary Services Michael Taylor says the projects will take at least 5-7 years to complete, but expects it will help to manage the student population.

“Pender County is number five in the state right now with student growth,” Taylor said. “So, we are outgrowing our capacity at an incredible clip. So, building a new school will make a significant impact on that and the ability to remodel the Topsail Middle School and, you know, the plan was to have that become the freshman academy.”

Taylor says the next steps in the process include land acquisition and putting together construction plans. He says the hope is to open the K-8 school in August of 2026.

“The school system is experiencing substantial population growth in the eastern section of the County along the US 17 corridor, around Scott’s Hill and Hampstead, to Holly Ridge and in the proximity of Topsail Island,” states information prepared for the LGC. “Topsail H.S. was built as a 1-A high school and is now 4-A.”

Folwell also asked Andrews if he would be open to answer future questions the LGC may have for county officials about the county’s agreement to sell Pender Medical Center to Novant Health.

“Yes sir, absolutely,” replied Andrews.

The county and Novant Health are working to finalize legal documents by September.