Wake County would reach into Durham County for sliver of school land

mquillin@newsobserver.comApril 7, 2014 

— A member of the Wake County Board of Commissioners joked recently that the county eventually would have to move outside its borders to find suitable land for new schools.

That will occur if the board approves a proposal it heard on Monday to build a new elementary school on the Wake-Durham border to accommodate the growing student population of the Brier Creek area.

After considering four dozen sites for what is called E-38 during the planning stages, Wake County Public Schools settled on a nearly 24-acre assemblage off Comstock Road, near the intersection of I-540 and Pleasant Grove Church Road. All but 3.5 acres of the property is in Wake County, and school planners created a design for the property that would place the school buildings and amenities on the Wake side. A retaining wall, part of a water-retention area and a section of a multi-purpose field would lie on the Durham side.

Joe Desormeaux, assistant superintendent for facilities for the schools, presented the plan to commission members and said the school system’s attorney and the county’s attorney had researched the legal issues and found the plan to be sound. Johnna Rogers, Wake County deputy county manager, said county staff had studied the school board’s choice and endorsed it.

If the board approves the plan, the county would pay about $2.9 million for the property in one of the fastest-growing sections of the county. The land is owned by King Investment Properties LLC and Comstock Acquisition Partners LLC.

Desormeaux told the board that the land is priced at 10.4 percent above its appraised value, but the owners are willing to sell. Some of the sites the school system considered would require condemnation.

Developing the site will require coordination with Durham County, the Town of Cary and the N.C. Department of Transportation, Desormeaux said.

Also at Monday’s meeting, the board approved the schools’ plan to purchase land in west Cary for another elementary school. That school, off Morrisville Parkway, is to open in 2016.

Desormeaux didn’t encounter serious frustration from the board until he proposed a $20.7 million appropriation to pay for site work at two new elementary schools, a middle school and a high school, plus classroom technology and other infrastructure improvements. Commissioner Joe Bryan, who had told Desormeaux he appreciated the way the schools’ staff has been working with county staff in recent weeks, said he still found it impossible to tell from the school systems’ documentation how much it really cost to build a school. He used Rolesville High School as an example, and said that land, building, infrastructure and other costs should be totaled up and presented together as the final cost.

Rogers told Bryan that her staff is working with the school system so that future reports will be more complete and easier to read.

Commissioners used a few moments of the meeting to honor Tony Gurley, who resigned from the board in February to become chief operating officer of the Office of State Budget and Management. While honoring Gurley for serving on the board since 2002, members told Gurley they hoped he’d remember his friends in county government when the state is considering “unfunded mandates.”

The board voted unanimously to appoint Rich Gianni to complete Gurley’s term. Gianni will take his seat on the board on April 21. Gianni, a Republican, is running for the District 3 seat in the fall election.

Quillin: 919-829-8989

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