Johnston school leaders think they’ve found a great spot for a new middle school in the Cleveland community.
Some neighbors, however, disagree.
Residents who will live next to the middle school on Norris Road don’t deny the need for a new campus to ease crowding at existing schools. But they think their winding, two-lane connector road isn’t the best choice.
They say a school there will create traffic and safety problems and affect their property values and quality of life.
Paul Pasquarelli, for instance, fears he could lose some of his land to road improvements needed in the future. He lives about 300 feet from the school site.
“I don’t see how you aren’t going to add a lane to do this safely,” Pasquarelli said.
Norris Road is about a mile long and runs between Lee and Barber Mill roads. It’s about four miles from Cleveland High and about six miles from the existing Cleveland Middle.
The school district worked with N.C. State University’s Operations Research and Education Laboratory to pick the school site from 13 possible locations. Superintendent Ed Croom said the land on Norris Road was at the heart of a target area where researchers thought Johnston needed a school most.
Croom said OREd conducts an intense study and visits an area to identify the best location for the school.
“It is a long and arduous process,” he said.
But Pasquarelli said neither OREd nor the school district contacted him and other neighbors when considering the school site. He said they found out instead through a newspaper article, and a group has since come together to oppose the decision.
Patrick Jacobs, the school district’s chief operations officer, said staff followed the same procedure to pick this site as it has others in the county. The land was already zoned appropriately for a school, so a public hearing and notice for a rezoning were not required.
Johnston County Planning Director Berry Gray said the land is zoned for agricultural and residential use, a classification that allows schools.
In the past two weeks, opponents have placed small signs reading “No Norris Road Middle School!” on both sides of Norris Road and surrounding streets. On Tuesday, about eight residents took their complaints to the Johnston County Board of Education.
Laurel Causby, whose family’s land abuts the school site, said she spoke for a larger group with concerns about safety and traffic. She said Norris Road has a sharp curve with low visibility near the school site, close to where a child was killed at a bus stop in the late 1990s.
“We feel these dangers still exist and haven’t been addressed,” Causby said.
Continued population growth in the Cleveland community has put a strain on its schools. Cleveland Middle has about 275 more students than it was designed for.
The new middle school should help reduce crowding at the middle school and give a growing elementary school population a place to go in the future. Cleveland Elementary is currently at capacity.
Johnston County schools bought the middle school site for $688,500 from Roberts and Wellons Inc. of Smithfield. The district closed on the land May 28.
The purchase price was well under the $750,000 the schools earmarked for the land in a bond referendum voters approved in 2013.
Construction is budgeted at $19.1 million. Johnston will borrow that money in the first half of 2016.
Dunn: 919-553-7234, Ext. 104