Green proposes building patio homes for teachers

WINNSBORO – A proposal by Superintendent Dr. J.R. Green that the Fairfield County School District construct patio homes and rent them out to teachers received mixed reactions at the July 19 regular school board meeting.

“I’ve been working on an initiative for the last several months that would develop some housing for current and prospective teachers in the District,” Green told the Board. “We hope this will increase our ability to recruit and retain certified staff. We’ve had some conversation with experts in the field as to how we’re going to pursue maybe developing some two- and three-bedroom patio homes that would be financed through conventional financing, how we can fund traditional school district capital projects.”

While Green did not identify the “experts” he had consulted, he said he thought the project would help teachers who work in Fairfield County and who are unable to buy housing to find a way of eventually moving here, which, he said, presents more stability and would help the entire community by spurring an economic venture. Green said he was “very optimistic about our ability to pull something like this off.”

“So by next month I will hopefully bring forward the opportunity to make a proposal that we go out and put that project out for bid to see if we could get some firm figures on what it would cost to really pursue such an initiative,” Green said.

William Frick, District 6, raised some questions about Green’s proposal.

“So that we won’t run into something we ran into on a previous project, when you say, ‘put out for bid,’ could you tell us specifically what you’re talking about?” Frick asked.

“OK, probably what I’m going to recommend, is that we pursue a design/build contract and ask firms interested in pursuing the project to give us some proposals and some firm figures on what it would cost to deliver houses that we’ve identified,” Green said. “So the design/build can encompass the architectural design and construction all under one contract. So all I’m saying is if you (contractor) have the capacity to deliver such a project, let us know what you would do it for, what would such a project cost.”

Frick also asked Green if he had any examples to give the Board an idea what he (Green) is proposing.

While Green did not have any models for the Board to look at, he said, “Some districts and cities have pursued such projects – Baltimore, San Francisco. One thing that initiates such a move in these cities is that teachers could not find affordable housing because the cost of living is so high. The issue in Fairfield County is not the high cost of housing, but access. There is not an abundance (of homes) available so teachers can’t find houses they are comfortable with to move in to.”

Board member Rev. Carl Jackson (District 5) asked Green if he was proposing to build the patio homes on property the District already owned.

“We are exploring other options,” Green said, “but, ideally, we’d like to locate them on District property.”

Board Member Paula Hartman (District 2) said she preferred spending the District’s money on students’ education rather than building homes for teachers.

“Let the people who build (homes) do this, not the school district,” Hartman said. “We need to stick to educating our students.”

Hartman asked Green who would cover the cost of building and maintaining the patio homes.

After explaining that the school district will pay for the construction of the homes, Green added that, “I will plan this so all the debt will be encompassed in the rent payments, just like a regular apartment complex. While it will cost the District money to construct the facility, my hope is that we will pursue conventional financing and then what would happen is, as we collect (rent) from the tenants, we will pay back the construction loan.”

Green said the construction, financing, maintenance and upkeep would all be covered by the rental revenue.

“I just don’t think the business of the school is to construct and rent out homes,” Hartman said.

Green told the Board that he has talked to some individual County Council members about the proposal and that they told him they would be interested in partnering on such an initiative. But he said that while he is interested in partnering with the County, “I don’t want us to lose our momentum in terms of making this happen.”

“Sometimes,” Green said, “a lot of people want to talk and evaluate. My concern about involving too many people . . . is that I just want to maintain our momentum as we move forward.”

Board member Annie McDaniel (District 4) said she liked Green’s proposal, but asked him to keep the Board members in the loop via email so they would know where the District stands on the project and be able to answer the public’s questions about it. Green said he would.

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