RALEIGH — The 2014 opening of a $25 million high school that would teach technical skills that students can use to get jobs after graduation now rests on whether Wake County commissioners will agree to front money to get the project moving.
Late Tuesday, the Wake County school board passed a resolution asking commissioners to acquire, renovate and outfit a former Coca-Cola bottling plant in South Raleigh for use as the new school. On Oct. 1, commissioners will discuss whether to provide money to lease the building, locking in the site so that it might be ready in August 2014.
“In the spirit of trying to be helpful, we’ve identified a way to pay for it,” County Manager David Cooke said Wednesday.
If the deal is reached and other steps are also completed, it would result in the opening of a school that has long been discussed as a way to provide more options for Wake County students who don’t plan to go to college.
In March, Wake County Schools Superintendent Tony Tata and Wake Technical Community College President Stephen Scott proposed the high school plan to the school board and commissioners.
The career and technical education high school, more commonly known as a vocational school, would train students in fields such as plumbing, automobile collision repair, refrigeration, cosmetology and biopharmaceuticals. Under a partnership with Wake Tech, students would be able to graduate with a high school diploma and enough college credit for a certificate.
Though Wake high schools offer similar programs, the new career and technical high school would be the first of its kind in the county, with a depth of offerings not found elsewhere in the district.
Under the resolution passed Tuesday, the school would serve 700 high school students and 1,000 Wake Tech students who would use the building, at 2200 South Wilmington St., on nights and weekends.
“It would provide seats and provide a new approach to education,” said Joe Desormeaux, the school system’s assistant superintendent of facilities.
The search for funding
School officials had initially looked at opening the school in August 2013, but they pushed it back a year. The big challenge has been money.
Cooke said that because neither the school system nor Wake Tech wanted to use their own money, it was left up to the county to come up with it.
Before Tuesday, the school system had been looking at funding the school as part of a school construction bond referendum that could go on the ballot next year. But Cooke said that option meant the school wouldn’t open in 2014 and that the county could lose the site if the developer chose to go in another direction.
Cooke said county officials are considering leasing the building using part of $50 million that would have gone toward paying down debt. Within five years, he said, the county would buy the building using money that would come in the next school construction program, most of which would be paid for with the bond issue.
“I can’t say it will be an easy transaction,” Cooke said.