Clay County Schools receive a $32 million grant for new buildings
By Travis Dockery
On Thursday, April 28, Clay County Schools superintendent Dale Cole announced the school system as the recipient of $32 million in grant funding which will go towards the building of new buildings on campus.
On Dec. 16, 2021, every school district in the state received a notification from the Depart of Public Instruction that the rules had changed for the needs-based lottery grants. Hayesville recently used one such grant to build the new primary school. Under the previous rules, Clay County Schools were ineligible to receive another grant for another five years.
Under the new rules, the local matching requirements would range from 0% to 35% based on property tax data. Clay County qualified for a needs-based grant with no local match. Cole stressed that fact in his press conference, saying, "Let me make that clear. We do not have to may any local match if we receive one of these grants."
A total of 95 counties were made eligible to receive one of these grants under the new rules
which eliminated the five year period of ineligibility that Hayesville was under due to the new primary school.
"These changes were made possible by fiscal policies implemented by our North Carolina government," said Cole. "As a result of the changes," Cole continued, "Clay County Schools became an eligible district and after a conversation with our Board of Education members, our county commissioners and our county manager, I received blessings from all of those groups to pursue this grant."
Cole and his team crafted a grant application for $40 million to build a new school that would provide new classrooms for grades 3-8, a new middle school gym, a new cafeteria to serve grades 3-12 and a new performing arts center that would serve K-12. According to Cole, the performing arts center would be made available for community use as well.
According to Cole, this new building would consolidate 11 "very old" buildings with the hopes of reducing maintenance costs, provide a safer learning environment and would help recruit families and teachers to Clay County Schools.
Of the 95 eligible districts, 70 school systems submitted grant requests that totaled $2.7 billion. A total of $395 million was made available by the North Carolina general assembly this year.
Out of all of those submissions, Clay County Schools was awarded $32 million in state funds to go towards the new building. "I do have to point out, that this grant of $32 million, which we greatly appreciate, it is $8 million short of what our design plans put out there that we would need for a 3-8 school," said Cole. "So certainly, we're going to have to go through a design process anyway. I have no doubt that as always our Board of Education and our Board of Commissioners are going to work together to work through that design process that will include size and scope and a lot of other things about the project, including total cost," he said.
Board of Commissioners chairman Dr. Rob Peck also commented at the press conference, saying, "We are truly blessed for this great opportunity." Peck praised county manager Debra Mauhney and the staff who put in the leg work to turn ideas into reality.
Dr. Jason Shook, Board of Education chairman echoed Peck's comments and said, "I'm thankful for Mr. Cole to think far enough ahead to go ahead and start having some plans."
According to Cole, the timeframe for the completion of the new facility is three to four years.