Fresh board has last word on Wake school

Fresh board has the last word

Staff WriterOctober 14, 2009 

— A showdown is looming between old and new Wake County school board members over whether to build Forest Ridge High School in northeast Raleigh.

School board candidates who were elected last week have argued that Wake should look for an alternative toForest Ridge because of higher-than-expected costs. But board members, including several who will leave Dec.1, warn that switching to a new site would also cost money and delay construction. They told administrators Tuesday to continue with the Forest Ridge site.

"They should realize making a change now will have costs," said school board member Patti Head, who didn't run for re-election.

But Chris Malone, who won the school board seat representing Wake Forest and eastern Wake, said new board members are likely to tell staff members to go with a different site.

"We're going to push ahead and make them stop it," Malone said. "The election didn't shake them up."

Last week, Malone and two other candidates who are critical of the school district's policies were elected to the school board. A fourth race will be decided in a runoff Nov. 3.

The new board members, along with current board member Ron Margiotta, could form a ruling majority on the nine-member board. In addition to opposing the diversity policy, they've also complained about the $7.5 million worth of public infrastructure improvements around Forest Ridge High School.

Forest Ridge has been a source of controversy with many local residents complaining about its location and effect on traffic. The school is on Forestville Road near U.S. 401, two miles away from Heritage High School.

Administrators had said in August that the off-site water, sewer and road improvements were coming in at $7.5 million, bringing the total cost of the new high school to $80 million.

Joe Desormeaux, assistant superintendent for facilities, said he thought staff 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.

Shopping around

Opponents of the Forest Ridge site have proposed alternative locations, including one on U.S. 401 near Louis bury Road that had been presented to county commissioners by Rolesville Mayor FrankEagles.

School administrators are reviewing 30 sites, including the one Eagles likes.

Administrators said using any site except Forest Ridge would delay the opening of the school to 2014.

Chuck Dulaney, assistant superintendent for growth and planning, said not having the new high school until 2014 would exacerbate crowding in the northeastern part of the county. He said it would also lead to costs from installing additional mobile classrooms and adding ninth-grade centers.

Malone said he was skeptical of the concerns that have been raised by staff members. Eagles said he welcomed the changes that the new board members will bring.

"It's time somebody came along and told staff they're not in charge," Eagles said.

keung.hui@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4534

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