School and elected officials in Johnston County finally broke ground on the Norris Road Middle School site last week, which is expected to open to students next fall.
The school, located off of Norris Road, will serve families in the Cleveland community once construction is complete and will alleviate overcrowding at the current Cleveland Middle School. The school will be approximately 100,000 square feet and will have a capacity of 800 students.
The middle school will be built similar to middle schools built in the district since Cleveland Middle School was constructed in 1999. It will have all of the same amenities, including a cafeteria, gym, media center and classrooms. The school is on schedule to be built and is expected to open for students in August.
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.
“We’re the second fastest growing district in the state, and the seventh largest district in the state,” Superintendent Ross Renfrow said in a press release. “When we have ground breakings for new schools it shows that we’re committed to catching up with growth and making sure that we have ample space for our students.”
Renfrow said as the county’s population continues to grow, the school district has to have a committed effort to building more schools.
“We’ve also got to make sure our older facilities are up to par with the new things that we’re building, because there cannot be a perception of haves and have nots in the county,” Renfrow said. “We’re committed to growth and making sure we have new buildings, but we’re also committed to taking care of our older facilities so they meet the needs of students in those areas as well.”
Nearby residents to the site were initially resistant to a plan for a new middle school next to their neighborhood. Those residents have said their winding, two-lane connector road isn't the best choice for a school. They say a school there will create traffic and safety problems and affect their property values and quality of life.
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.
Patrick Jacobs, the district’s chief of operations, said Norris Road has been repaved and turning lanes have been added.
The school district worked with N.C. State University’s Operations Research and Education Laboratory to pick the school site from 13 possible locations. Johnston County schools bought the middle school site for $688,500 from Roberts and Wellons Inc. of Smithfield. The district closed on the land last spring.
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. Tracey Peedin Jones, a spokesperson for the district, said a mascot will be chosen after a principal is hired, which typically is six months before school opens.
The school board has not yet determined what attendance zones the school will draw from.