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NCSS backs buying land for school

Photo by Howard Reed

Photo by Howard Reed

COVINGTON -- The Newton County School System is defending its purchase of nearly 118 acres of land to build a replacement for Newton High School in 2013.

Several residents have voiced their concerns for the price paid for the land. NCSS purchased two parcels of land for $2,276,600, or $19,331 per acre.

The parcels' value for the 2010 tax year is $1,874,700, according to the Newton County Tax Assessor's office.

However, NCSS officials said the tax assessment value and an appraisal for market value are different.

"At the time, there were two experienced bankers and one real estate broker on the (Board of Education), and all agreed the price was fair market value," said Sherri Davis Viniard, director of Public Relations at NCSS. "In fact, the bank bid almost $45,000 more at the foreclosure sale based on their own appraisal."

The land also comes with water and sewer, officials said.

"The fact that it has water and sewer and offers two entrances makes it an ideal location for a school," said school board attorney W. Kent Campbell.

The Newton Citizen filed an open records request with the school system for documents related to the purchase of the land.

The land was purchased with capital project funds, which may only be used for the purposes of building a new facility and not for materials or items budgeted under the system's general operating fund, as required by state law, Viniard said.

Dennis Carpenter, deputy superintendent for Operations at NCSS, added that at least 100 acres is required by the state for the replacement high school and accompanying facilities. The school building will hold 2,500 students on at least 60 acres, ball fields will take up another 10 to 15 acres each and other space will be needed for practice fields. Some space will be left vacant, like at Alcovy High School, to possibly build stadiums in the future, he said.

"There will not be any room for anything else," Carpenter said.

Capital Outlay Funds will be used with SPLOST funds to build the school.

"Law also requires districts to use SPLOST funds as advertised and our 2007 SPLOST included constructing a new high school, which is cheaper than renovating as the state's financial participation is much greater," Viniard said. "An estimated $24 million in state participation will be infused into the district's building program."

Campbell said the land is part of the old Harold Dobbs farm and fronts both Crowell and Jack Neely roads. The land was previously owned by the JD Wyatt Farm and later Burnt Pine Partners LLC, from 1998 to October 2010, when it was purchased by the First State Bank of Northwest Arkansas from which NCSS purchased the land, according to the tax assessor's office.

It has not been owned by the Dobbs family since that time, but the family does own land adjacent to the property, according to the tax office.

NCSS plans to bid a contract for building of the new school in the spring. The school would be scheduled to open in time for the start of the 2013-14 school year; the current NHS facility is being phased out of state funding and cannot be renovated with any state money.

Later, perhaps in 2017, NCSS plans to build a replacement building for Eastside High School and move in a lower-grades theme school to the current EHS facility, according to its facilities plan that the school board approved last year.

The system currently is building a new elementary school on nearly 81 acres on Airport Road that it purchased for $1,133,580, or $14,000 per acre, and had to make sewer improvements to it.