Tuesday, May 21, 2024

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Ballfield upgrades top county’s new capital improvement plan

As a prelude to the county’s next annual budget, Alamance County’s commissioners have signed off on a new capital improvement plan that lays out the county’s facilities-related priorities for the fiscal year that begins in July.

Included in this plan, which the commissioners unanimously adopted on Monday, is a five-year to-do list for the county government – along with comparable lists for the Alamance-Burlington school system and Alamance Community College, which rely on the county to fund their capital expenditures.

In the case of Alamance Community College, the newly-approved plan projects a five-year expenditure of $2,296,000 for Alamance Community College, while it envisions $16.5 million in upgrades for the school system. Meanwhile, $7,466,104 in repairs and improvements have been penciled in for the county’s own facilities during the course of the next five financial cycles.

Yet, with the exception of the 12-month period that begins on July 1, the figures which appear in the county’s new capital improvement plan are purely advisory. In fact, Alamance County’s manager Heidi York, assured the commissioners that the outlays set aside for the upcoming year are really the only hard-and-fast figures in the document and will ultimately serve as the basis for the proposed annual budget that she presents later this spring.

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Under the new capital improvement plan, the school system will receive $3.3 million for its maintenance needs in the new fiscal year, while the community college can expect to get $536,000. Meanwhile, a total of $2.3 million has been set aside for the county’s facilities – a substantial increase from the $300,000 that these buildings have been allocated in previous budgets.

Among the more sizeable sums in the county’s maintenance line item for the new fiscal year are a $500,000 allocation to replace the HVAC system in the county’s human services center, $232,204 to replace an old chiller in the county jail, $125,100 to put a new roof on a decommissioned state prison farm that the county uses for jail overflow, and $113,907 for various improvements to a former bank building that the county recently purchased to house the local elections office.

Yet, the single largest item in this whole inventory is a $1 million allocation to upgrade one of three athletic fields that the county’s recreation and parks department has slated for improvements in the coming years.

Under the county’s new capital improvement plan, this million-dollar outlay would be duplicated in each of the following two fiscal years in order to gussy up playing fields at Altamahaw-Ossipee, E.M. Holt, and B. Everett Jordan elementary schools. All told, these three fields are expected to consume $3 million of the nearly $7.5 million that’s anticipated to go into all of the county’s facilities in the coming five years.

The relative size of these athletic field upgrades ultimately raised the eyebrows of county commissioner Pam Thompson, who questioned these proposed allocations before she and her colleagues approved the new capital improvement plan. Noting the $3 million earmarked for all three of the fields, Thompson inquired “would the Yankees be playing [at these locations]?”

Commissioner Craig Turner observed that the funds projected to go into these fields amount to about 40 percent of all of the funds that the county has slated for capital improvements over the next five years.

County commissioner Craig Turner

Meanwhile, commissioner Bill Lashley agreed that $3 million over three years seems a bit much to patch up the three ballfields, which are owned by the respective schools rather than the county itself. Lashley pointed out that these funds would constitute a “really big injection” of funds into the parks and rec department, whose operational budget he estimated at about $1.85 million a year.

“I’m glad we’re focusing on it,” he went on to opine. “It definitely needs to be done…But can we do it for less than three million bucks?”

County commissioner Bill Lashley

In response to these questions and concerns, assistant county manager Brian Baker told the commissioners that the seemingly high set-asides for these fields are intended to make sure they each receive the funds needed to bring them up to snuff. Baker, who previously served as the county’s recreation director, added that as things stand, some of these fields are all but unusable due to years of deterioration.

“They’re unsafe on some level. We’re not holding games at B. Everett Jordan because it’s just not adequate to have kids there.

“I do believe that if we invest heavily in these facilities, we will see more kids come out there. The alternative is that is we don’t invest in these facilities, we’re asking kids who live in the northern or southern part of the county to drive into Burlington two or three times a week.”

– Asst. county manager Brian Baker

“They’re unsafe on some level,” he went on to explain. “We’re not holding games at B. Everett Jordan because it’s just not adequate to have kids there.

“I do believe that if we invest heavily in these facilities, we will see more kids come out there,” the assistant county manager said. “The alternative is that is we don’t invest in these facilities, we’re asking kids who live in the northern or southern part of the county to drive into Burlington two or three times a week.”

Baker told the commissioners that the priority for each of these fields will be the lighting and repairs to their concession buildings, although he added that the proposed allocations would cover other improvements as well.

In the end, the commissioners seemed satisfied with Baker’s justifications, and they went on to approve the capital improvement plan with its catalog of proposed upgrades to the county’s facilities.

Steve Carter, the vice chairman of Alamance County’s commissioners, insisted that its high time the county had such a comprehensive list of projects, which he likened to the itemized breakdowns that he and his colleagues have demanded from the Alamance-Burlington school system.

County commissioner Steve Carter

“I think it’s a good idea just coming up with the projects like we have asked the school system to do,” Carter declared before the 5-to-0 vote in support of the capital improvement plan. “The sad thing is that this is probably not a comprehensive list of projects. But it’s a good first pass.”

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