With no firm date set for the next bond issue, Wake County school administrators want to use their savings to get a head start on some construction projects.
As noted in today's article, administrators want to use most of the $91.3 million in savings from the 2006 bond issue to add more high school seats. But the money could also be used to get work done on the long-discussed middle school near Leesville Church and Strickland roads in northwest Raleigh.
Click here for a handout of the presentation that staff gave the school board last week.
As you can see, the biggest shortfalls are projected to be at the high school level. All those kids who flooded Wake's elementary schools in the mid-2000s are heading to high school soon.
There are two options on the table and both have identical high school plans. The biggest chunk of the $91.3 million would be for $59 million to go toward building a new high school, designated H-7, on Green Level Church and Roberts roads in Cary.
H-7 is called a "small high school" because the building capacity is 1,663 students, which was standard for Wake until the 2,000+ seat Rolesville High was developed.
Don Haydon, chief facilities and operations officer, told the board it would be "tight" getting H-7 open by 2014. That's part of the reason for pages 9 and 10 in the packet.
Wake has contacted architectural firms to see whether they can come up with an H-7 design that would be cheaper and faster than what's normally built. On pg. 11 of the handout are examples that Wake has implemented or looked at in recent years to cut construction costs.
For 2012, Wake wants to place additional eight-classroom modular units at Athens Drive, Holly Springs and Middle Creek high schools.
In 2013, staff wants to build off-campus ninth-grade centers for Panther Creek and Garner high schools. Haydon said neither high school would have the space on campus to hold all the future students.
Haydon said one option they had looked at for Panther Creek was putting a modular campus on the site of a future middle school near Alston Ridge Elementary. But he said that option wouldn't be cheap so they're looking to see what else is out there in the northwest Cary area.
As for Garner High, Haydon said they looked at converting the vacant movie theater off U.S. 70 but decided it wasn't feasible.
School board vice chairman John Tedesco suggested to Haydon they look at a former Walmart store off U.S. 70 as an option. Haydon said they'd look into it as well now.
“If you made a Winn-Dixie work, you could probably make a Walmart work even better," Tedesco said, pointing to the ninth-grade center that's been used for the past few years by Wakefield High.
School board member Kevin Hill touted the academic benefits of ninth-grade centers, saying he wished every high school had one. He was principal of Green Hope High when they temporarily used Carpenter Elementary to house freshmen.
“They’re removed from the upper class pressure," Hill said of separate ninth-grade centers. "You can nurture them a little better.”
Both plans also call for early-starting E-20, an elementary school that would be built near the North Wake Landfill in North Raleigh and E-25, an elementary school that would be built off U.S. 1 in Wake Forest near the Franklin County border.
The plan would be to put E-20 on the modular campus on Spring Forest Road adjacent to East Millbrook Middle School and E-25 at the DuBois Center in Wake Forest. They'd both move in to their temporary homes in 2012.
When E-20 and E-25 would open in their permanent homes would depend on when the next bond issue is approved. If it goes before voters in 2013. E-20 could open in 2014 and E-25 could open in 2015.
Here's where the split between the two plans occurs.
One option would use the remaining savings to build E-29, an elementary school on East Wake High's campus in Wendell. They'd tear down the former Vaden Whitley middle school building for the new school.
The other plan would call for building M-8, that new northwest Raleigh middle school. Due to the small size of the land, Haydon said they'd provably have to compromise on the athletic fields.
Whichever school doesn't get priority would be shifted into the next bond issue. If they go with E-29 first, it would open in 2014 with M-8 potentially opening in 2015 if the bond issue is held in 2013. If they go with M-8, it would open in 2014 with E-29 potentially opening that year too if there's a bond in 2013.
The official recommendation on whether to go with E-29 or M-8 will come at the July 12 board meeting.
Haydon told board members that a week ago he would have recommended E-29. But he said that was before planners in Wendell and Zebulon told him growth wasn't coming as fast as expected. In particular, he said he was told the big Wendell Falls subdivision won't start until a year from now.
While not official yet, Haydon said he'd personally recommend going with M-8. In addition to filling a need for middle school seats, Haydon said it would allow Wake to provide a year-round middle school in that part of the county.
As you guys recall, Leesville Road Middle was switched back to a traditional calendar for the 2010-11 school year so there aren't really nearby year-round options in northwest Raleigh.
This is where the whole no plan to convert year-round schools issue came up.
Hill asked Haydon if he was basing both options on keeping all current year-round schools on that calendar in 2012-13. Haydon answered yes.
School board chairman Ron Margiotta then asked Superintendent Tony Tata if from a student assignment perspective he was expecting all the year-round schools to remain that way in 2012-13. Tata answered yes.
Of course, the school board could still tell Tata it wants some year-round schools converted so the issue may not be resolved yet.
School board member Keith Sutton asked about when major renovation projects would be funded. He said several older schools need extensive work, including Hunter Elementary School near downtown Raleigh.
Haydon said the major renovations would be part of the new bond issue.
One of the other issues that came up during the discussion was Tedesco's proposal that staff consider emptying out under-enrolled schools as a way to meet construction needs.
For instance, Tedesco asked Haydon about looking at converting an under-enrolled elementary school in Garner to a sixth-grade center. He said they could also convert one of the middle schools to a ninth-grade center for Garner High.
Later on in the discussion, Tedesco asked about converting HIlburn Elementary or some other under-enrolled elementary school in northwest Raleigh to a sixth-grade center. Haydon responded that they'd save in the short term but still would need the additional capacity eventually.
Considering that Hilburn was recently named one of the new STEM schools, there would be a backlash about emptying the school and dispersing the students to other campuses.
One person in the audience quipped that Tedesco's relocation arguments were coming from a guy who says he values stability.