City Councilwoman Mary-Ann Baldwin wants Raleigh to work more closely with Wake County schools as it plots new locations to serve a growing population.
Baldwin pointed to a recent debate over whether to build new elementary schools near the county’s borders or closer to downtown Raleigh. She told fellow council members this month that she’d like to see new schools built along current and future transit lines.
“This gives children and parents additional options for getting to school and may relieve stress on the (school system) budget for transportation and bus services,” Baldwin wrote in an email to the council. “It would also help us drive ridership and create walkable centers.”
Mayor Nancy McFarlane said transit-connected schools will improve demand for the service, pointing to the increase in bus ridership after a stop was added at Millbrook High. “They spend all this money on activity buses” for after-school activities, she said. “To put the high schools on the transit system is incredibly important.”
For now, Wake County’s next round of new schools are slated to go outside the Beltline – and outside major transit lines. Land has already been purchased at several locations in northern Wake: next to Rolesville High School; near the intersection of Strickland and Baileywick roads in Northwest Raleigh, and off New Bern Avenue outside the Beltline.
Real estate is cheaper in far-flung suburban areas, and Baldwin has suggested the city can help make urban sites more affordable. She’s calling for more partnerships where parks and community centers can be built next to new schools – the sort of land sharing that’s already taking place at Brier Creek Elementary School.
At Brier Creek, the school shares a 20-acre tract with city ball fields, a playground and a community center. Some of the park facilities, including the gym, are shared with the school, which typically gets first priority during school hours.
A similar arrangement is in place for a North Raleigh site adjacent to a former landfill. Abbotts Creek Elementary School will open there in 2015, with a county EMS station, a city park and a community center under construction next door.
To explore further cooperation, Baldwin is proposing a new task force with representatives from the city council, school board and Wake County Commissioners. “This is an opportunity to elevate the discussion about our future, using the best minds and searching for innovative ideas,” she wrote.