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.