All of the services currently located in the Central Office complex of Wicomico County Public Schools – in the main building and the annexes – will be moving from Long Avenue to the Northgate Business Park in north Salisbury this summer.
This move will place nearly all Central Office service operations in one location, under one roof. This will allow for greater efficiency in services and operations, while resolving longstanding facility issues with the annex portable buildings in a cost-conscious manner.
The Board of Education this week approved a 20-year lease agreement for Building Three, Suite #100 at Northgate Business Park on Northgate Drive. There is enough space at the new location to house offices currently in the main building on Long Avenue as well as in Annexes 1, 2, 3 and 4, and to hold Board of Education meetings. Some 150 employees will be housed together at the new location. Planning for the move to the new location sometime this summer is underway.
The new Central Office location makes good fiscal and operational sense in three key areas:
- Fiscal responsibility
- Health and safety
“We are pleased on behalf of our students, families and staff to have this affordable opportunity to relocate into a new Central Office,” said Dr. John Fredericksen, Superintendent. “In addition to being the fiscally responsible option, the new location will be better for operational efficiency, and better for the health and safety of our staff and those we serve.”
The new location comes at a much lower cost than other options that were looked at by the school system. For what the school system would have needed to spend on office renovations and annex replacements, the new facility can be leased for nearly a century.
As an example: A preliminary estimate of the cost to partially renovate Wicomico Middle into offices was $24 to $30 million in capital expenditure, not to mention the need to redistrict and consolidate. The conversion of other schools or buildings into office-type use would be similar in cost, requiring additional accommodations to address codes and ordinances. And, since such a project would not be a renovation of instructional space, there would be no matching state funds. That would mean 100% of the cost would have had to come from local bonds.
The lease on the new location is $8.45 per square foot for 30,000 square feet of finished, furnished office space. The annual lease cost for the Northgate location will be $253,500, with the monthly payments coming from the school system’s ongoing Operating Budget. No additional local funding is being sought for this. It is important to note that this relocation will have no impact whatsoever on the planned replacement of West Salisbury Elementary School, since school construction projects are funded through the Capital Budget.
This relocation will allow the Board to remove the Central Office Administration project from its Capital Plan. That project was slated to be addressed in needs in Fiscal Year 2020, at a cost of $6.5 million. This change to the Capital Plan is extremely beneficial for Wicomico County Public Schools since those dollars would have been in direct competition with other capital projects needed for schools.
The Board of Education put a high priority on vacating the aging annexes for health and safety reasons. The annexes are portable buildings located between the original Board of Education Building and Wicomico High School and house many key support offices. Perdue Farms Inc. generously donated these portables to the school system once it had finished its headquarters project more than two decades ago; the school system used the portables for the phased renovation of Wicomico High School and since then for instruction and offices. These “temporary” structures have long since outlived their useful life and require frequent, costly repairs. The condition of the structures has become a real concern for employee, student, and visitor health and safety.
“For several years the Board has expressed concern over the working environment of our employees in the Annex area of our present location. The cost of repair or replacement far exceeded the funds available to us,” said Board President Ron Willey. “This opportunity to lease property that will satisfy these issues as well as allow Central Office personnel to be housed in one safe and healthy location was the best solution we have found in our recent years of searching.”
For some time the school system looked for office space to address the problem of the annexes, but that search had not yielded anything of the right size and cost. A few months ago, the Knowland Group contacted the school system to see whether Wicomico Schools would like to have their office furniture since the company was no longer operating out of its Salisbury call center location at Northgate. When school officials went to see the furnishings that were being donated, they learned that the furniture was for the whole office area and was valued at nearly $400,000. They also learned that the office space was going to become available to rent as well since the company’s lease was ending. This provided the chance for the school system to move into a finished, furnished office space at a fraction of the cost of other relocation options.
From the beginning, the school system kept the local County government apprised of its tentative plans as it worked through the details of the plan.
The school system is looking forward to improved efficiency and communication from having most of its Central Office departments all under one roof for ongoing collaboration and communication. Approximately 150 employees will now be located in the same building instead of spread across five different buildings.
Plans for the relocation are fluid as details are being worked out, but the current plans calls for the existing Central Office building on Long Avenue to house the growing Infants and Toddlers Program, which is now renting space on Northwood Drive. Relocating Infants and Toddlers from rented space in north Salisbury to owned space would save about $50,000 a year. The new location would be easily accessible to the families who use the Infants and Toddlers services. Over the next year, plans also call for the annexes to be decommissioned and removed from the site.