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400 Iredell residents plead for school building repairs

An estimated 400 concerned residents packed the grounds of the Iredell County Government Center in Statesville on Thursday night to urge county commissioners to place a bond referendum on the November ballot to repair aged school buildings.

A capacity crowd of 250 filled the commissioners’ meeting room, and about 150 others stood outside the building.

“Let the people vote, let the people vote,” the crowd inside the meeting room chanted, drowning out commissioner Ken Robertson as he explained how “Obama Care” and other federal directives had cut into the county’s coffers and ability to fund local education.

The crowd then filed out of the meeting room, after commissioners’ Chairman Steve Johnson ignored their chants and announced that commissioners were moving onto the “administrative matters” part of the agenda.

After the crowd exited, several women holding placards walked to the front of the room, sat down and held the placards so they faced the commissioners for the rest of the meeting. “Nickels, quarters you can spare for our kids to show you care,” read one.

Johnson had earlier allowed the first 10 people who signed up to speak during the public comments part of the agenda to state their case for up to three minutes each.

Speakers included two Iredell-Statesville Schools teaching assistants, Mooresville lawyer and parent Greg Whitfield, Mooresville Mayor Miles Atkins, Mooresville town commissioner Mac Herring and other concerned parents. All of the speakers urged commissioners to let voters decide in November on bonds for building repairs.

Commissioners made no commitment to a referendum Thursday night, but Johnson urged anyone who didn’t have a chance to speak to sign up to address commissioners during a June 4 public hearing on the county’s proposed 2013-14 budget.

The crowd wanted commissioners to allow residents to vote on $86 million in building repairs in the Iredell-Statesville and Mooresville systems.

The $86 million represents the first of three phases of $250 million in overall school building needs over the next decade. A 14-member countywide facilities task force spent a year identifying the needs.

From a pure safety standpoint, Mooresville’s greatest needs are renovating the Mooresville High School gym and auditorium, which have been extensively damaged by water over the decades, Edwards said.

The district bans students from jumping up and down in the gym’s bleachers as they cheer because their movement causes the other side of the gym to move, Todd Black, the district’s director of operations, has said.

“The first time I saw it, I got concerned,” Edwards, the national superintendent of the year, said of the gym moving. “People were laughing about it. I wasn’t laughing about it. I called in engineers to conduct tests.”

In the Iredell-Statesville system, the task force identified deteriorating school building canopies and retaining walls, broken curbs, aging pavement, concrete at numerous sites needing replacement, numerous bathrooms needing refurbishment and outdated electrical equipment needing replacement at many locations. Ceilings, lighting and insulation need upgrading across the system, and eight schools are crowded or are about to be.

Also this week, the Mooresville-South Iredell Chamber of Commerce urged commissioners to put a referendum on the ballot.

Providing “safe and well maintained” schools is crucial to a good learning environment, president Kirk Ballard said in announcing his nearly 800-member chamber’s support of a referendum.

Marusak: 704-987-3670; on Twitter @ jmarusak.
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