SNOW HILL — With the Worcester County Commissioners preparing to vote next week on the budget, it seems that the highly anticipated Snow Hill High School (SHHS) renovation could receive some preliminary support if the budget remains intact, though one commissioner warned that people shouldn’t expect to see shovels in the dirt until at least late 2013.
“The best case scenario … at the earliest it would be the fall ,” said Commissioner Virgil Shockley.
Included in this year’s budget is $800,000 that could be put toward interest-only payments for a new SHHS. If the money remains in the budget when the commission votes next week and Shockley anticipates that it will, the commissioners would be able to go to the bond market to seek financing next spring.
Commission President Bud Church, however, didn’t share Shockley’s confidence that the proposed budget would survive intact through next Tuesday’s final vote.
“We have seven people and probably three different opinions [on the budget],” he said.
Church explained that he’s not prepared to guess on the opinions of his colleagues, but did admit that if beginning construction on SHHS appeared financially feasible, the commissioners would most likely dive into the project.
“That is our goal,” he said.
Building a new SHHS was delayed last fall when the commission decided that adequate funding wasn’t available to pursue the project. The decision wasn’t one that sat well with the Board of Education and a large number of parents of SHHS students, many of which were vocal about their dissatisfaction. However, if the timeline that Shockley is predicting comes true, then the commission would actually be a little ahead of their original schedule, since they voted last November to work toward beginning construction in summer of 2014.
But Shockley said that proponents of the school shouldn’t bust out the champagne just yet.
“You’re not going to hurry things along,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if you have the money.”
Shockley explained that even if everything goes well on the county end, the project needs state approval.
Skepticism over support from Annapolis was something that Church did share with Shockley.
“We’ve gotten tired of trying to second guess the state,” Church said.
Church also stressed having money set aside in this year’s budget doesn’t mean the school is on the fast track towards completion.
“It’s still on the drawing board,” he said.
Church went on to say that “the big key is money.” Early estimates place the cost of a new SHHS around $46 million, with Worcester responsible for about $42 million of that. There’s also some doubt that the county will receive all of the roughly $4.5 million it expects from the state for the project.
However, Shockley at least feels that now is a good time to forge ahead with getting a new school.
“The interest rates right now are nothing. It’s a good time to borrow,” he said.
Shockley also made mention of the approximately $1.6 million in architecture and engineering fees that Worcester has already set aside for the project.
“I see it starting next year, hopefully,” said Shockley of construction.
Whether or not any money for SHHS makes it into the budget, Shockley pointed out that the commission has already voted to send a letter of support for the project to the state this October.
While the fate of SHHS should become a little clearer next week, even if funds for the school do make it into the budget, there’s no guaranteed timeline yet.
“It’s been a long struggle,” he said.