Outcome Of School, Transportation Votes Expected To Boost Area's Marketability

By Cece Nunn, posted Nov 5, 2014
Now that a majority of voters has given the green light to a $160 million bond issue for improvements to local schools, one of the first projects expected to pick up speed is a new elementary school for the growing northeastern portion of New Hanover County.

The school bond issue, as well as a Wilmington transportation bond issue also approved by voters Tuesday, will pay for projects expected to enhance the area's marketability, real estate professionals said Wednesday.

Before nearly 64 percent of voters (in unofficial results) approved the school funding plan Tuesday, New Hanover County Schools officials had already been laying the preliminary groundwork for the new school, one of 14 projects the bond issue will pay for.

At a meeting in October, the Board of Education approved the purchase of about 18 acres at 202 Edgewater Club Road for the site of what has been dubbed Northeast Elementary School for the time being. The new school is expected to cost $16.4 million and hold 595 students.

Also in October, the board voted to re-use the prototype design of the existing Castle Hayne Elementary School, done by LS3P Associates, for Northeast Elementary. Construction would begin in January 2016, with an opening set for August 2019, according to the district’s proposed bond project schedule.

College Park Elementary and Blair Elementary schools will be replaced with new facilities on the properties where they are currently located, according to the plan.

“We will gain capacity with the new school, and we’ll gain a little bit of capacity with the two replacement schools as well,” said Bill Hance, assistant superintendent of operations for the school district.

With some renovations and the addition of mobile units, a church property the district bought in July at 5301 Sidbury Road will house elementary school students temporarily displaced by construction and improvement projects.

Northeastern New Hanover County, including the Ogden and Porters Neck communities, has been growing quickly for the past 10 years, only slowing down a bit when the economy did, said Tom Gale, a Realtor with Coldwell Banker Sea Coast Advantage whose daughter attends Blair Elementary.

Gale lost his bid Tuesday for a spot on the New Hanover County Board of Education. But speaking as a Realtor on the outcome of the bond vote, Gale said that since the economy has picked up, “there’s a lot of growth in both single-family homes as well as multi-family homes” in Ogden and Porters Neck.  

Safer, properly-equipped schools are more appealing to potential homebuyers, he said.

The school bond will be paid for with a 3-cent increase on county property tax bills. While some who opposed the bond said any increase is too much, “I think there are more people concerned about having a good quality school that their children can attend than having a couple of extra cents on their tax bill,” Gale said.

What happens at schools can also have an impact on commercial real estate activity.

“Employers looking at the area are interested in the school system and the quality of education their employees’ children will receive, along with the condition of the schools,” said Steve Hall, a commercial broker with Maus, Warwick, Matthews & Company, who was one of the brokers representing The Rock in its sale of the Sidbury Road property to the school district.

Also Tuesday, nearly 65 percent (according to unofficial results) of voters approved a $44 million city bond referendum for transportation projects around Wilmington, with $20 million going toward bicycle and pedestrian projects.

The next steps for the transportation projects include the city coordinating “with other organizations to minimize costs and impact to residents. Staff will begin immediately to gather more information that will help prioritize projects and determine which projects can get underway as quickly as possible,” the city’s website says.

The website contains details about each of the projects to be funded by the transportation bond, to be paid for with a 2-cent increase on city property tax bills.

Adding walking trails and and crosswalks in areas where they're needed is another way to improve the appeal of neighborhoods, Gale said.

Safety is critical to buyers, he said.

“When compared to other counties in North Carolina, New Hanover County and the Wilmington area rank amongst the highest for traffic fatalities,” Gale, who is also chairman of Wilmington Regional Association of Realtor's Governmental Affairs Committee, said in an October WRAR news release. “Plus, citizens list these improvements at the top of their list in municipal surveys, and these projects need to be done.”

The results of the Nov. 4 votes remain unofficial until the New Hanover County Board of Elections reviews and certifies them, and the canvassing is scheduled for Nov. 14.
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