RALEIGH — A debate over whether to build a new high school in Cary or Apex will determine how the Wake County school system handles crowding issues before the economy improves enough to ask voters to approve funding for more construction.
School administrators had previously considered using unspent bond money to build a 1,600-student high school at Green Level Church Road in Cary that would open in 2014.
But administrators also have presented a new proposal to put that project on hold in favor of building a 2,200-student high school off Humie Olive Road in Apex. That would open in 2015.
A final decision could come Tuesday at the school board meeting. That decision also would affect whether the school board has enough money to build an elementary school in Wake Forest, an elementary school in eastern Wake County or a middle school in northwestern Raleigh.
The high school options already have generated division, with board member Debra Goldman and board chairman Ron Margiotta lobbying for the school that would be in their district.
"Are we going to wait till Cary High just implodes?" Goldman, whose district includes the Cary high school, asked at a recent school board meeting. "What are we going to do there? Because the problem won't go away by just waiting."
But Margiotta says building the larger high school in Apex, which is in his district, will help more students.
A bond referendum - to get the public's permission to borrow possibly more than $1 billion to pay for school construction projects - is on hold because of the down economy.
But with thousands of new students still coming to Wake each year, administrators want to use $99.4 million in unspent bond money plus some cuts to pay for some new projects in the interim.
In June, administrators made public two options.
Both plans had some identical features such as building the new high school in Cary, building off-campus ninth-grade centers for Panther Creek High School in Cary and for Garner High School and putting more classroom trailers at three other high schools to deal with crowding.
The plans differed in that one also would have built an elementary school on the campus of East Wake High School in Wendell while the other would have built a middle school on Leesville Church Road in northwest Raleigh.
At a school board meeting this month, administrators gave the school board the additional option of building the high school in Apex instead of in Cary.
The new option also would delay the eastern Wake elementary school and the North Raleigh middle school in favor of building an elementary school off U.S. 1 in Wake Forest.
Don Haydon, the school system's chief facilities and operations officer, touted how this third option would provide 600 more seats to deal with crowding issues in the western part of the county.
Any schools not built with the available bond money would be put on hold until the next bond issue.
"We need high school seats everywhere," Margiotta said in an interview Wednesday.
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