RALEIGH — Wake County school administrators and outgoing board members warned today about the consequences of abandoning construction of the new Forest Ridge High School.
Several school board candidates who were elected last week have argued that Wake should look for an alternative to Forest Ridge because of higher than expected costs. But board members, including several who will be leave Dec. 1, told administrators to continue using Forest Ridge High even as they keep looking at alternative sites.
"They should realize making a change now will have costs," said school board member Patti Head, who chose not to run for reelection this year.
Located on Forestville Road near U.S. 401 in northeast Raleigh, Forest Ridge has been a source of controversy with many local residents complaining about its location and/or proposed traffic plans. It's located two miles away from Heritage High School on Forestville Road, sparking additional neighborhood traffic concerns.
Administrators had said in August that off-site road improvements were coming in at $7.5 million more than expected. That drew complaints from several school board candidates who accused the district of wasting money.
But Joe Desormeaux, assistant superintendent for facilities, said today he wanted to clarify the figure. While he said that the $7.5 million wasn't budgeted, he said only $3.3 million of it hadn't been known when it was presented to county commissioners in October.
Even then, Desormeaux said he thought they could come up with the money for the off-site improvements from an estimated $32 million in savings from school construction projects coming in under budget. School board members had been talking about taking measures such as delaying construction of Forest Ridge's football stadium to save money.
Opponents of the Forest Ridge site have proposed alternative locations, including one on U.S. 401 near Louisbury Road that had been presented to county commissioners by Rolesville Mayor Frank Eagles.
School administrators are reviewing around 30 sites, including the one from Eagles. But Don Haydon, chief facilities and operations officer, said they've already looked at most of the sites in the past and ruled them out.
"There wasn't a better site available," said school board member Lori Millberg, who didn't run for reelection this year. "That's how we ended up here."
Administrators said using any site other than Forest Ridge would delay construction of the new high school by two more years from 2012 to 2014.
Chuck Dulaney, assistant superintendent for growth and planning, said not having the new high school until 2014 would exacerbate overcrowding in the northeastern part of the county. He said it would also lead to high costs from installing additional mobile classrooms or adding new ninth-grade centers.
School board member Ron Margiotta, who has been critical of the Forest Ridge site, suggested stopping any spending on the project while they explore other sites. But Haydon said even a two-week delay at this point would endanger the ability to open the school on schedule in 2012.
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