Lake Norman & Mooresville

Mooresville agrees to give $2.5 million to school district for performing arts center

Mooresville has agreed to give $2.5 million to its public school district to help build a state-of-the-art performing arts center at its high school, with commissioners approving earlier this month a letter of intent outlining a long-discussed partnership agreement.

The tax dollars fund improvements like acoustic treatment and a sound system, LED lights, an outdoor plaza and upholstered seats at the planned center at Mooresville High School, where construction is scheduled to begin before year’s end. The center would replace the existing auditorium there that has fallen into disrepair.

The town would have free access to the center for a total of one month each year, said Todd Black, director of operations for the Mooresville Graded School District.

While the town and the district have a history of working together, this is the largest sum of money ever to change hands between the two, Black said. He and superintendent Mark Edwards appeared before commissioners at an agenda meeting late last month, formally requesting the funds.

Planning to use money from its general fund, the town intends to pay the $2.5 million in annual installments over two years, Town Manager Erskine Smith said.

Despite the amount of taxpayer money involved, commissioners did not hold a public hearing before voting 4-1 in a closed session on Nov. 2 to make the financial contribution, or even advertise the measure on the regular meeting agenda. The vote approved a letter of intent outlining an agreement for its use by the town; commissioners will not vote on the terms of that agreement until no later than May.

That, however, is not required, Smith said, adding that commissioners usually do not seek public input on matters involving expenditures.

Dissenting was Commissioner Lisa Qualls, who suggested the arrangement might unintentionally lead other schools to view the town as a potential source of funding.

“I’m in full support of the performing arts center,” she said at the meeting. “But I feel like we need to vet this out a little bit more as far as what kind of precedent were setting going forward.”

Conversely, Commissioner Thurman Houston described the partnership as advantageous, saying it would pay dividends. “I think the greatest partner we could have is our school system,” he said.

Part of a nearly $40 million expansion and renovation of the high school, the performing arts center would contain an estimated 14,000 square feet, with a seating capacity of about 1,600. It would occupy part of a larger building that would also house an adjoining gymnasium containing roughly 22,000 square feet.

Construction is scheduled to begin in December and expected to finish before the 2017-18 school year.

Discussions about the town’s partnering with the district to help build the center have taken place for the past four or five years, involving several informal meetings between commissioners and school officials, said Black, the district’s director of operations. But when bids for the project started coming in higher than expected in September as a result of rising construction costs, he added, “it made a partnership with the town even more important.”

Mooresville has a history of providing funding to local schools.

In 2008, it agreed to spend a total of about $3.1 million on recreation improvements at Rocky River Elementary and Mooresville Middle schools, Smith said, as well as other improvements as part of the construction of Coddle Creek Elementary. The elementary school, south of town, is part of Iredell-Statesville Schools.

Jake Flannick is a freelance writer: