RALEIGH — Despite warnings that making the change could cost taxpayers an additional $15.5 million, Wake County's school board majority moved a step closer Tuesday toward fulfilling its campaign promise of abandoning a proposed high school in northeast Raleigh.
New board members on the facilities committee passed a recommendation to scrap building Forest Ridge High School in favor of pursuing two alternative parcels of land in Rolesville, a vote that exhibited the majority's control of smaller board bodies that shape crucial policy recommendations.
Board newcomers expressed sharp skepticism about claims from school administrators that switching sites would lead to a two-year delay in opening the school and require the extra millions to deal with overcrowding and inflated construction costs.
"When they say it will cost $15 million more, I'll believe it when I see it," said new school board member Chris Malone, chairman of the facilities committee.
School board vice chairwoman Debra Goldman, another newcomer, wondered whether administrators are using "scare tactics" to discourage scrapping the problem-plagued Forest Ridge project. She noted how a recent report from a task force that recommended staying the course with the Forest Ridge site overestimated the cost of one of the Rolesville alternatives by $1.36 million.
The vote by the full board to formally abandon Forest Ridge could come as soon as next week.
To keep a promise to voters
By pushing to scrap the current site on Forestville Road near U.S. 401, Malone and other new board members said they are listening to the neighbors who complain about how the new school would worsen traffic problems.
"We have to do what's right for the community, not just dollars and cents," said Malone, whose district includes the Forest Ridge site. "People need to know we meant what we said."
Throughout their election campaigns last fall, the new board members were highly critical of the Forest Ridge site. One of the first acts of the new board after being sworn in Dec. 1 was to stop the project.
Trailers are main cost of switching
A vote by the full board is likely to draw complaints from those who worry about the cost of walking away from Forest Ridge.
"I want to be very clear of what we're asking of this community and dollars and cents are very important for this community," said Anne McLaurin, a member of the school board minority.
Administrators said most of the $15.5 million cost of abandoning Forest Ridge would come from acquiring classroom trailers to relieve overcrowding at Knightdale High School and nearby elementary schools until the new high school is built in 2014. Administrators had hoped to open Forest Ridge in 2012 so that high school students could be moved out of temporary quarters and be replaced by elementary students.
Unless the board majority backs down, the sites they want staffers to look at in Rolesville are on U.S. 401 near Louisbury Road and near Rolesville and Quarry roads. Both sites were proposed by Rolesville Mayor Frank Eagles, who said having a school in town would boost community spirit.
"It's important for Rolesville for the school to be in Rolesville," Eagles said.
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