• 9 Investigates: Portion of money approved years ago for CMS still hasn't been used

    By: Blair Miller

    Updated:

    Tuesday night, Charlotte-Mecklenburg School leaders will discuss spending more money to upgrade and build new schools. But a Channel 9 investigation uncovered more than $100 million approved years ago still hasn't been used. 

    In 2007, Mecklenburg County voters decided overwhelmingly to give Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools $516 million to help handle growth.

    The list of projects included 12 new schools and upgrades to 28 others.

    One upgrade was at West Mecklenburg High School. Don Hardin, the president of the booster club, showed Eyewitness News around the football stadium that was slated to be torn down. CMS planned to spend $8 million for a new stadium including a field house, track and artificial turf.

    “What has happened since 2007?” Eyewitness News anchor Blair Miller asked.

    “Around here? Virtually nothing,” Hardin said.

    Plans now show the project is "on hold due to funding."

    “I'm dismayed actually, because I see the need to spend that money,” Hardin said.

    Since December, Eyewitness News has been looking through the list of projects approved in 2007 and checking their status. Most have been completed.

    But we also found schools like Davidson IB Middle, which was slated for renovation. Since 2007, it's closed and the project's been canceled.

    As for the $516 million that voters approved, $304 million has been spent and another $96 million has been allocated for future projects. That leaves $116 million waiting to be issued and spent.

    “We had to tighten our belt and just live with that,” said Guy Chamberlain, who is in charge of construction and managing CMS buildings.

    He said it's up to the county to take out loans to provide the money to CMS.

    “If you look closer at the plans, some of the projects haven't even started yet. Why is that?” Miller asked.

    “I think because of the economy, the county was not in a position to issue debt,” Chamberlain said.

    And while $116 million waits to be spent, the district plans to pursue another $200-300 million for more repairs.

    “How hard will that be to sell the average voter, especially when you have a bond package from 2007 that's not finished yet?” Miller asked.

    “There may be a little overlap, but by the time we actually start spending the money from the next bond referendum proceed, we will pretty much be done with the 2007 projects,” Chamberlain said.

    But that could be more than a year away, and it doesn't sit well with freshman County Commissioner Kim Ratliff.

    “You're looking at 2007. This is 2013,” Ratliff said. “I could've gone out and bought some property and built a school myself.”

    When Eyewitness News told her about the district wanting an additional $200 million, she said that won't happen until she and others ask some direct questions.

    “The real truth of the matter is, what has happened with the $200-plus million that's just sitting there? And why are you asking for more at this time?” Ratliff said.

    Chamberlain said the new stadium at West Mecklenburg and the remaining 2007 projects will be finished, and that hopefully construction will begin this year.

    There could be some money left over, which would be used for security upgrades.

    As for another referendum, county commissioners will have to sign off on it. If they do, it will go to voters as early as November.

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