Primary school opening soon


Sunday’s ribbon cutting signals students will transition into new setting within weeks

  • (Becky Long • Clay County Progress Clay County Schools)  Superintendent Dale Cole thanks everyone involved in the new primary school from start to finish including former and current county commissioners and school board members.
    (Becky Long • Clay County Progress Clay County Schools) Superintendent Dale Cole thanks everyone involved in the new primary school from start to finish including former and current county commissioners and school board members.

Clay County students in Pre-K through second grade can view their new primary school first-hand within weeks, according to Superintendent of Schools Dale Cole. An “optimistic” time line puts students in their new classrooms by the third week in November, Cole said.

Completion of the $13.4 million Hayesville Primary School was celebrated Sunday with a ribbon cutting ceremony attended by a small group of people, mostly elected officials and school and county personnel.

The event was moderate-sized to maintain the governor’s phase 3 guidelines allowing no more than 50 people in outdoor gatherings, Cole said.

Cole, finishing out his first year at the helm of Clay County Schools, has had a litany of firsts, some like the pandemic, were difficult to maneuver, but the new school has to be the highlight.

“In these times, it’s duly noted that when we all work together as a team, we can do great things for our children,” he said.

Retired superintendent Scotty Penland, who has served on the commission board since 2018, thanked all their partners for sup- porting the project. These included North Carolina legislators for making the money available, Wells and West and the architect firm, Boomerang Design. “I’ve never worked with a better contractor,” Penland said. 

Penland has been a proponent of a new primary school for years. When he retired in 2013, he acknowledged one of his biggest disappointments had been not getting the primary school.

Voters had twice rejected a quarter-cent sales tax that could have helped fund the school. The sales tax was eventually passed in 2018.

Also in 2018, Penland was called back to serve as interim superintendent after Mark Leek retired. He worked on the school project through a subcommittee made up of county commissioners and school board members, among others.

During Sunday’s event, Penland acknowledged this project as an example of per- severance paying off. Citing Winston Churchill he said, “Never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never.’ We never gave up,” Penland said.

In addition to many others, Penland acknowledged Cole’s contributions to the effort over the past year. “Dale has been very thoughtful. He has made well thought-out decisions,” he said.

Promising to keep his speech short and not provide the “full” history of the school, Penland’s appreciation for seeing the project come to fruition was evident.

“Every time I go in this building, I’m just amazed,” he said. “It kind of makes me sad I’m retired, but not that much. It’s been a long process, we made it, we’re here. I just want to thank everyone.”

School Board Chairman Ja- son Shook, echoed Penland’s appreciation to all involved in the process as well as his enthusiasm.

“We’re all excited about this building. Our teachers and students are super excited,” he said. “These kids walking through these doors are the future of tomorrow.”

Shook said, “It just shows what’s possible when people on the state and local levels come together.”

When Commission Chair- man Rob Peck spoke, he also acknowledged that the new school had been years in the making.

“This was a vision that took many years to develop,” he said. “When vision and preparation meet opportu- nity, this is what we get.”

Peck thanked several people by name including former commissioners Robert Pen- land and Ed Roach, current and former school board members, finance officers Betty Patton and Shelly Hollingsworth along with the former county manager, Mark Pullium, among others.

He noted that Supt. Leek was instrumental in writing the grant application for school funding, thanked the architect and pointed out that with Wells & West hir- ing locally, the county had benefited in more ways than one from school construction.

“Our goal was to use as many local workers as possible and we did. Wells & West returned nearly $6 million to our economy” Peck said referring to the contractor using local vendors, sub-contractors and employee labor.

The school was estimated to cost about $13.4 million with $10,212,000 received from the North Carolina State Lottery Fund and the county providing $3.2 million, according to county officials.

“A new school generates excitement for learning, and that is what we want for all of our students, but particularly our youngest,” Cole said last week. “It also generates pride in the community when we can see what we can accomplish for our kids when we work together.”

Transitioning students

When asked the timeline for transferring students, Cole responded: “We are hoping the playgrounds will be finished by Nov. 2. We would then use the week of Nov. 2 to allow the public to visit and tour the facility. Teachers could then begin moving their materials in the week Nov. 9 and classes could begin in the facility by Nov. 16.”

The new arrangement:

• Pre-K through second grade will relocate to the primary school, along with severe exceptional children in kindergarden through fifth grades.

• Elementary school will house third through fifth grades.

• Middle school will be sixth through eighth grades.

• High school will continue to house ninth through 12th grades, including severe exceptional children sixth through 12th grade.

“One additional change that will come from this is an adjustment in daily schedules. We will be using the same 21 buses for both campuses. Over half of our bus drivers are teachers and several of them teach at the primary school,” Cole said. “This means they will have to drop off students at HPS, drive to the main campus bus parking lot and drop off the grades three-12 students and then park their buses and drive back to HPS.

This means that we will need to offset the campus schedules by at least 15 minutes to create time for this transition. We expect that HPS will be starting classes at 7:45 a.m. and ending at 2:45 p.m. so the main campus can keep its current bell schedule. “

Cole said they plan to to try this schedule for the first two weeks of the school opening and then make adjustments if traffic patterns and issues emerge.

“Of course, we could eliminate this issue if we had more licensed bus drivers so that our teachers did not have to drive,” Cole added. “So please sign up for the next class if you would like to earn some money driving our buses.”