RALEIGH — It's time to pay the price for the record growth that flooded Wake County elementary schools in the middle part of the last decade.
Plans are on the table to build several new high schools to accommodate all those students who came to the county several years ago and who are entering their teenage years.
But with most of the money not available until a not-yet-scheduled bond referendum is approved, a short-term plan has been developed to get more high school seats.
Wake County school administrators want to use most of the $91.3 million in unspent school construction dollars to accelerate plans for a new high school and to provide more trailers and off-campus ninth-grade centers.
"We've been aware for some time there's been a shortage of high school seats," said Don Haydon, the school system's chief facilities and operations officer. "We've seen the growth coming and need to put up additional high schools."
In 2006, Wake County was on an economic roll, and the school district experienced record growth of more than 7,500 new students. That year, voters approved a $970 million school construction bond referendum to pay for new schools and renovation projects.
But the onset of the recession slowed growth and put plans for bond referendums on hold.
School administrators expect the next bond issue to be in 2013 or 2014. So Haydon presented options to the school board last week on how to use the remaining 2006 money. Among the recommendations:
Opening a new high school at Green Level Church and Roberts roads in Cary in 2014.
Opening off-campus ninth-grade centers for Panther Creek High School in Cary and Garner High School in 2013.
Adding eight-classroom modular units to Athens Drive High School in Raleigh, Holly Springs High and Middle Creek High School near Apex in 2012.
Space for freshmen
Wake has used off-campus ninth-grade centers whenever high schools are too crowded to take more trailers. Wake has used new schools and has rented and repurposed commercial buildings - such as former supermarkets - to house freshmen.
In addition to helping with crowding, supporters say the centers let freshmen benefit from not being around older students.
"They're removed from the upper-class pressure," said school board member Kevin Hill, who was the principal at Green Hope High School in Cary when it had an off-campus ninth-grade center. "You can nurture them a little better."
To also help reign in costs, administrators have contacted architectural firms to see whether they can design the new high school in Cary for less money than would normally be spent.
"We want to save as much money for the taxpayers as possible," Haydon said.
His recommendations also call for temporarily housing elementary school students on land near East Millbrook Middle School in North Raleigh and at theDuBois Center in Wake Forest. Students would stay there until money from the next bond issue allows the opening of new elementary schools near the North Wake Landfill in North Raleigh and off U.S. 1 in Wake Forest.
The board also will have to decide whether to approve an elementary school on East Wake High School's campus in Wendell or to build a middle school at Leesville Church and Strickland roads in northwest Raleigh.
Whichever project isn't chosen would be included in the next bond issue.
Haydon said his staff will make its official recommendation to the school board on July 12. If the school board approves, the board would also have to get approval from county commissioners.
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