By Catharin Shepard •
Staff writer •
Hoke County Schools will receive $10 million in grant funding from the state to go toward building a SandHoke School of Engineering in Raeford.
The county will have to provide a local match, dollar for dollar, in order to receive the money. The project will cost an estimated $28.19 million total, according to the school system.
The funding will go toward “a state-of-the-art facility” with capacity for up to 500 Hoke high school students. The proposed engineering school would be about 64,000 square feet and feature more than 20 classrooms/labs, a cafeteria, a multipurpose room, resource rooms, collaboration space and related office spaces, school officials said.
The $10 million in grant funding is from the Needs-Based Public School Capital Fund, which helps pay for new school construction in economically distressed counties. North Carolina Superintendent Mark Johnson announced Thursday a total of $55 million in grant funding for four different school districts, including Hoke County.
The proposed SandHoke School of Engineering will be located near SandHoke Early College High School, on the Sandhills campus on East Central Avenue in Raeford.
The SandHoke School of Engineering will help ease overcrowding at Hoke County High School, and offer new options for local students, Superintendent Dr. Freddie Williamson said.
“In partnership with Sandhills Community College and Hoke County Board of Commissioners, we plan to build SandHoke School of Engineering which will offer the students of Hoke County tremendous opportunities,” Williamson said in a statement. “The SandHoke School of Engineering will provide additional college pathways for students pursuing an Associate in Applied Science degree, and will also address the issue of equity by focusing efforts on encouraging our female students to pursue careers in Engineering and Computer Science. Additionally, this school will allow Hoke County Schools to address the growth of our student population while saving capital funds for future school construction projects.”
Currently Hoke High School has a total population of about 2,000 students. Several hundred more high school-age students attend SandHoke Early College High School. Although about half of all high school students are currently learning from home full-time due to the pandemic, overcrowding has long been a concern at the aging Hoke High campus.
The grant can be used for construction of new buildings only, and cannot be used for real property acquisition, according to school officials. Williamson thanked Johnson on behalf of the school system for selecting Hoke to receive the funds.
The local match and additional money for the total cost of the project will have to come from the county, if county commissioners choose to approve it. School officials plan to meet with county officials to discuss how to proceed.
“The Commissioners were made aware of the grant application for the funds with the understanding of local math as part of the assurance,” Williamson wrote in an email Monday. “The process moving forward will include discussion of funding, building design, and a timeline. I have spoken with (Commission) Chairman (James) Leach, Chair Irish Pickett, and (Sandhills Community College) President Dr. (John) Dempsey about the project and a joint meeting.”
The meeting date has not yet been announced.
2020 is the fourth year that the grant funding has been made available, according to the state superintendent’s office.
“These grants will help address our state’s need to replace old, outdated schools with better learning environments,” Johnson said in a press release.
The other grant recipients this year include Robeson, Wayne and Edenton-Chowan school districts. Robeson County received $15 million to build a Robeson County Career and Technology Center, with a total project cost of $82.3 million; Wayne County received $15 million to replace and expand Fremont Elementary School, with a total project cost of $23 million; and Edenton-Chowan received $15 million to build the first phase of a new high school, with a total project cost of $20 million.
The North Carolina General Assembly created the grant fund to help school districts in low-wealth counties. The revenue comes from the North Carolina Education Lottery, according to the state superintendent’s office. Awards are capped at $15 million per project for Tier 1, or most distressed counties, and $10 million per project for Tier 2 counties.
The money comes with a stipulation: the law requires a local match of $1 for every $1 in grant funds for Tier 2 counties like Hoke.
“County applications were reviewed based on priorities provided in the law, including ability to generate revenue, high debt-to-tax revenue ratio, and the extent to which a project will address critical deficiencies in adequately serving the current and future student population,” a press release stated. “An emphasis was placed on projects that were far enough along in the planning process that construction could begin within 12-18 months.”
“I look forward to seeing these projects get under way in the coming months,” Johnson said in a statement. “I thank the General Assembly for making these funds available to help schools in areas that are most in need.”
Over the last four years, the Needs Based Public School Capital Fund has awarded a total of $298 million dollars to 26 local school districts, resulting in 26 new schools or buildings and the replacement of 29 existing schools, according to Johnson’s office.