Cary blocks ninth-grade center plan

Modular classrooms don’t fit the town’s design ideals

akenney@newsobserver.com May 26, 2012 

— The Wake County school district’s plans for a ninth-grade center for Panther Creek High School have run up against the objections of the Cary Town Council.

The school system had planned to move first-year students to a temporary facility near the high school, but the Cary council on Thursday declined to change town laws to accommodate the proposal.

Seven modular classrooms and one metal building had been planned for a vacant property in west Cary near Alston Ridge Elementary School, about three miles from Panther Creek. And because Cary’s ordinances don’t allow for temporary structures on a lot without a permanent building, according to town staff, the project needed special town approval.

The council didn’t like what it heard. Town staff said the change would open the door for any other school to put trailers on vacant lots, and Councilman Don Frantz worried that the “temporary” structures could become permanent facilities that fall short of the town’s design ideals.

“I just don’t think we should relax the standards for modular classrooms that could last for years and years, just because it’s for education,” said Councilwoman Jennifer Robinson. “ ... They’re not temporary; they’re just cheap.”

“Any of us would look at that and say, ‘No, that’s not Cary,’ ” added Councilwoman Lori Bush. While she empathized with the school board, she said, “poor planning on your part doesn’t mean an emergency on our part.”

Councilwoman Gale Adcock said the modular classrooms wouldn’t serve the best interests of the students either.

“That’s a lot of money to be spent on a four-year Band-Aid,” she said.

Wake County school system staff didn’t immediately comment on the Cary decision’s effect on the Alston Ridge plan, but it’s clearly another setback for a beleaguered plan that has been debated for months.

In February, the school board members agreed they would relieve Panther Creek crowding by moving the school’s ninth-graders to an office building in Morrisville.

The move brought backlash from parents who argued that the office building was too far from the main campus’ classes, extracurricular activities and athletics.

A month after the original vote, the school board’s Democrats voted to send the freshmen to the temporary facility near Alston Ridge Elementary School. The school system plans to eventually build a middle school on the empty lot.

The board’s Republicans dissented.

The Cary decision could add more fuel to Republican board members’ calls to bring the plan back to the drawing board.

Reached Friday morning, Democratic board member Keith Sutton agreed that the school system would have to reconsider its options. He didn’t fault the town of Cary for denying the school system’s request, he said.

“If it’s against their ordinances, then I’m not suggesting that they should have waived anything for us,” he said.

Kenney: 919-460-2608 or twitter.com/KenneyOnCary

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