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Wake County school board considering "least bad" choices for dealing with Panther Creek High overcrowding

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No one in the Wake County school system is thrilled with the options but by the end of the day there should be a plan in place to deal with short-term overcrowding at Panther Creek High School.

Of the four options on the table, staff will recommend today that the school board approve a plan to install two additional modular units at Panther Creek and three at Green Hope High School. The projected cost is $6,944,600, which includes an assumed offsite budget of $1.5 million.

This option is being recommended over other more expensive options that would call for a standalone ninth-grade center. But while the modulars are cheaper, it means the loss of some athletic fields and mean fewer students would be able to attend the popular Panther Creek.

For an explanation, here's a recap of the discussion from the Sept. 18 work session. Click here for the handout from that meeting. I'll update later with the new link from today.

Staff first reviewed the option that had been in play until the Cary Town Council objected. This would involve using the M-16 site next to Alston Ridge Elementary School.

To get around the issue of requiring an amendment to the town's land use ordinance, this option would require Wake to buy, as opposed to get an easement, land that connects Alston Ridge Elementary to M-16. Owning this land would allow Wake to have one continuous property so that the ninth-grade center would technically be part of Alston Ridge Elementary and not need town approval for amending the ordinance.

Assistant Superintendent Joe Desormeaux said the church that owns the land wanted $475,000 from the school system.

This option would cost $13.5 million and be ready in August 2014, a year later than the other options. But school board member Jim Martin pointed to how they'd use the M-16 site anyway in the future so the money they'd spend now would lower the future costs for the new middle school.

The second option presented was to go back to the original option first backed by the board of leasing an office building on Pleasant Grove Church near RDU Airport. This option would cost $10.93 million.

The third option is to lease the former Kmart building located near SW Maynard and Kildaire Farm Road. This option would cost $16.54 million, not the $9.9 million listed in the handout, Desormeaux said, because the property owner raised the price.

"I don’t know where to begin with my concerns with that site," said board member Debra Goldman.

Noting the traffic issues around the site, Goldman said it would be "a nightmare" to drive between the location and Panther Creek.

"It’s not convenient," added board member Susan Evans. "It’s not good.”

Evans said it's not a viable option in this case but she said to staff that "I really give you props for trying to come up with something different.”

Now we move to the modular option that's now being recommended by staff.

The modulars would be placed on the tennis courts at Panther Creek.

Goldman raised the concern about the ability of the ability of the core facilities, particularly the lunchroom, to handle the additional students on the main campus.

Desormeaux said they had talked with Panther Creek Principal Rodney Nelson, who said hw could handle the 216 additional students that would be in the modulars. Desormeaux said Nelson pointed to the benefits of keeping all the students on one campus.

Deputy Superintendent Cathy Moore said Nelson is taking into account that both juniors and seniors can go off campus for lunch and that other students use part of the time for Smart Lunch to take classes.

Goldman said that Smart Lunch has morphed into a situation where students are bringing their lunch to eat in class because they know they don't have enough time to go through the lunch line.

"Smart lunch can’t be used to cover a shortfall of cafeteria space," Goldman said.

More board questions were raised about the loss of the tennis courts with Desormeaux saying that the Panther Creek students would have the option of using the tennis courts at Green Hope.

Desormeaux said that they opted not to place the modulars on the practice fields because it would impact the school's physical education program.

Board member Deborah Prickett said that while she appreciates Nelson's efforts, she's worried about stressing the facilities. She said she wants to go back to the Pleasant Grove site.

Board member John Tedesco said he had been leaning toward the modular option because of the lower cost. But he said he was concerned about the impact of adding more units on the already crowded campus.

"It doesn’t seem like modulars is the right answer there," Tedesco said.

Tedesco and member Chris Malone raised the crowding issue, noting that the modulars would only increase Panther Creek's capacity by 200 students while a standalone ninth-grade center would hold 800 students.

Chief Transformation Officer Judy Peppler said they can control by limiting how many ninth-graders are admitted into Panther Creek. While not outright said, the implication is that by also adding modulars to Green Hope that some students will go there instead.

Malone said he's not satisfied with anything but Pleasant Grove, but he acknowledged that's not perfect.

Goldman said her first choice would be Pleasant Grove, followed by adding the modulars. She said she didn't see M-16 or the Kmart site to be options.

Martin said that it's "almost become a no-brainer" to use M-16 or placing the additional modulars when you look at the transportation costs. He pointed to staff estimates it could cost $840,000 a year to run buses between Panther Creek and Pleasant Grove or the Kmart site.

Martin said they can't have a ninth-grade center that's far away from the main campus.

Evans said that using Pleasant Grove would cost parents money by having them use a toll road. But Tedesco said there are alternative roads that could be used.

Staff then talked about the impact of adding the units to Green Hope, where it would expand capacity around 480 students. This would mean taking away a practice field.

Tedesco said he doesn't like the modular option. But he said he also doesn't like the distance to Pleasant Grove.

“All it seems is we’re given terrible options," Tedesco said.

"This is the least bad," Goldman added.

Tedesco asked why staff couldn't come up with an option like Pleasant Grove that's closer to Panther Creek.

Evans said the area west of NC 55 has very little commercial development

Betty Parker, director of real estate services, said they've run into a variety of issues finding sites. Problems includes the improvement of the economy taking away properties, the lack of big enough spaces, avoiding being under the flight path of the airport and the cost of converting facilities for short-term lease use.

Parker added that if they lease Pleasant Grove, she wouldn't recommend using it for more than eight years because Duke Power plans in the future to run a high voltage power line by the property.


The school board unanimously approved the staff recommendation to put the modulars at Panther Creek and Green Hope high schools.

What seemed to influence several board members is that Panther Creek Principal Rodney Nelson and Green Hope Principal James Hedrick backed the option.

Click here for the link for today's handout.

1349227376 Wake County school board considering "least bad" choices for dealing with Panther Creek High overcrowding The News and Observer Copyright 2011 The News and Observer . All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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Move Brier Creek students out of PC and into Leesville

I'm sure there wouldn't be as much overcrowding at Panther Creek and Mills Park Middle if all the students who live in the Raleigh suburb of Brier Creek were reassigned to Leesville Middle and High. Both those schools are currently not over enrolled. I have never understood why this subdivision is at these schools.


Basically, the problem is the Falls Lake Watershed.   There is no high school between Leesville and Wakefield.   As a result, Leesville is already full, which pushes the Brier Creek kids into Panther Creek.  (At one point, they were actually at BROUGHTON.)

There is a strong need for another high school in that area, but there's not a ton of good real estate -- Durham County on the West, The Airport and Umstead on the east. 

Considering that PC and GH

Considering that PC and GH are two of the top performing schools in all of Wake, the Board needs to do whatever they can to make sure these schools get what they need.  If the scores drop at these schools it will really damage Wake's reputation.

A satellite campus sounds farfetched.  Wouldn't being in a different location make it a different school altogether?  Why pretend it's part of PC?

But now that I re-read my

But now that I re-read my own post, I suppose the Board doesn't care if PC and GH performance decreases as long as everyone has an opportunity for an equally bad education.  

Empty Alston Ridge Elementary

there is year round capacity at Highcroft and Carpenter. Divide the kids between those schools. Carpenter needs a new principal, move current Alston Ridge principal there.

Bricks and mortar, like some Board members want. You already have a cafe, a library, bathrooms, a bus loop, offices, technology, etc. Have some personnel issues to resolve but overall, a very low cost solution. Don't know why it hasn't been more widely discussed/considered. Probably makes too much sense.

elementary schools not built for high school

An elementary school building is not built to house high school students. They don't have the right sort of classroom set up for science labs, there are no lockers, the classrooms don't have the right size desks and are not the right size to accomodate high school-size classes. I suppose all of that could be addressed, but it would just have to be converted back to an elementary school so I'm not sure it would save any money. Also, I'm sure the parents at Alston Ridge would be very unhappy at being forcibly moved to new schools. Is it really fair to solve the problems at Panther Creek on the backs of elementary school students?

there are significant

there are significant logistical issues with all the possibilities....I would guess that an elementary school could be retrofitted for a lot less $$ than some of these other options.


and people are going to be mad no matter what option they choose.

THIS is the least bad option.

good points

Same questions were asked when the idea came up a few years ago - before Tata got here - to use Hilburn as a 6th or 9th grade center or a k-8.  We still don't know the final cost of that project do we?

Almost 7 million for trailers?

For one school?

Is this school system freaking kidding?

I think it's well past time for split shifts at the high schools.  When will this board, led by non-leader Hill, start creating real solutions instead of kicking the ball behind them and reaching for another expensive band-aid?

WHEN MR. HILL??????????????

Wakefield High

I don't know the answer but I would guess they'd do it similar to how Wakefield High does it.

The Main Campus runs from 7:25 to 2:18 and Wakefield North (9th Grade Center) runs from 7:36 to 2:06. All grades ride the same buses to and from school. In the am, the buses drop off at Main first and then at North. In the afternoon, the 9th graders catch shuttle buses from North to Main Campus, where they get on the correct bus to go home.

9th graders can have one of three schedules: 1) all classes at the North Campus 2) periods 1&2 at Main with 3 & 4 at North or 3) first three classes at North, final period at Main. There is a shuttle that runs from Main to North after 2nd period and from North to Main for 4th period.

If you live within walking distance of Main campus, your 9th grader can walk to Main to catch the bus to the North Campus.

Thanks for the response

Thanks for the response Jenman.  I figured they would have to stagger start and end times but I never would have thought they could start later and end earlier (do they get a shorter lunch period to still get in the same amount of instructional time?)

Does anyone know what the

Does anyone know what the $840,000 for running the buses between PCHS and the 9th grade center represents?  Is it a shuttle-type operation for after school activities or are they planning to have parents drop off kids at the main campus and run buses up and back in the a.m. and p.m.?  OR is that the cost of running separate buses on each HS route to pick up 9th graders only and take them directly to/from home to center?  If the latter is the case, how many more buses are required for that scenario?

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About the blogger

T. Keung Hui covers Wake schools.