RALEIGH — Like an Old West gambler joining a high-stakes game, county school board chairman Ron Margiotta let Wake County commissioners know Tuesday that he held all the cards.
Margiotta showed up during the public comment period at the commissioners' meeting, on a day when they ultimately approved the school board's plan to buy land for a controversial new high school in Rolesville. It wouldn't matter how commissioners voted on the school known as H6, he said, the school wouldn't return to its originally planned location - on Forestville Road near U.S. 401, closer to burgeoning growth in northeastern Raleigh.
"Wake County Public Schools will not build H6 on the Forestville Road site," said Margiotta, who heads the school board's Republican majority.
A vote for the Rolesville site - at Rolesville and Quarry roads - could mean the system could open the high school by 2013, Margiotta said.
"I think we need to recognize that we need high school seats in this part of the county," he said.
Member Lindy Brown departed from the board's Democratic majority to vote for the purchase, with Democrats Stan Norwalk, Betty Lou Ward and Harold Webb opposing the motion approving the Rolesville site. Before voting, Brown said she had been troubled by residents' concerns about traffic near the Forestville Road site and wound up preferring the Rolesville location, offered for sale by developers St. Lawrence Homes, which declared bankruptcy early last year.
"I do believe that the St. Lawrence site is the best one," Brown said. "I will take you there and show you."
The decision, part of community debate about the 140,000-student system's change of direction on topics including maintaining school diversity, came after more than two hours of public comment and discussion among the board.
"It reeks of politics," Norwalk said as defeat for his position loomed, adding that the choice of Rolesville will appease people who voted for the school board majority, but do little to alleviate rampant overcrowding in northeast Raleigh.
Members heard from school administrators that the previous site had cost the system about $8.7 million for land and other preparation.
"Some people think that's a ridiculous amount of money to leave on the table," Ward said.
Republican Commissioner Paul Coble countered, "We never should have bought this land in the first place."
The Forestville Road site can be sold, if declared surplus, to mitigate some of the money invested in it, Coble said.
A large majority of speakers during the comment period opposed the Forestville Road site.
The school board agreed last month to offer $4.3 million for the 143.26 acres of the Rolesville site, after voting in February not to use the Forestville Road plot.
Members of the school board majority, most elected as new members last fall, have argued that Forest Ridge, the planned name for the 2,200-student school, would have created a burdensome amount of traffic on an already crowded road.
"They were dumping 500 to 1,000 cars a day on our neighborhood," area resident Sherman Biggerstaff, who spoke during a public-comment period, said about plans for Forest Ridge.
However, Zebulon resident Chester Raybon said the Roles ville location would be dangerous because it will cause a large increase in daily traffic in what is now a mostly rural area. He encouraged the board of commissioners to delay a decision on the Rolesville site until the repercussions of a planned bypass around the town could be considered.
The Wake schools administration has said changing sites could have delayed the school's opening until 2014. The board majority is pushing for a 2013 opening for the high school in Rolesville.
thomas.goldsmith@newsobser ver.com or 919-829-8929