Officials in Fuquay-Varina and Holly Springs are calling on Wake County leaders to make school construction in their towns a top priority in the coming years.
There is only one high school in each southern Wake town, and both face crowding.
Holly Springs High School has an enrollment cap, meaning students who move into the school’s assignment zones aren’t guaranteed admission. The town’s three elementary schools are also capped.
Fuquay-Varina High School is able to operate at 115 percent capacity thanks to 23 classroom trailers – 18 more than recommended by facilities managers.
The most recent bond referendum doesn’t address high school needs in Fuquay-Varina or Holly Springs, so town leaders are speaking up in hopes their needs will be met in the next bond referendum, if not sooner.
Fuquay-Varina commissioners passed a resolution last week calling on county leaders to build a new high school and renovate Fuquay-Varina High, which will be 40 years old next year.
“The truth is we need another high school in our service area that’s bigger than the one we got, and it don’t need to be full of trailers,” said Fuquay-Varina Mayor John Byrne. “We are the fastest-growing town in the state of North Carolina.”
Holly Springs hasn’t passed a resolution. But town council members recently met with Wake schools Superintendent Jim Merrill and talked about the prospects of another high school in Holly Springs.
“They know our needs,” said Holly Springs Mayor Dick Sears. “What (the school board) needs is more funding.”
The Republican-controlled Wake County Board of Commissioners is responsible for funding school construction. The Democrat-controlled Wake County school board is in charge of choosing where to build new schools.
Wake schools officials have said the district needs 40 new schools built and several others renovated by 2020 to accommodate projected growth. The recently-passed $810 million school construction bond will build 16 of them and renovate some others.
Unless Democrats take control of the board of commissioners in the upcoming election, the next bond referendum isn’t likely to take place until 2016. If voters approve a referendum that year, the new schools aren’t likely to open for another two or three years, said Joe Desormeaux, Wake assistant superintendent for facilities.
Fuquay-Varina is expected to grow by more than 6,000 residents to about 28,000 by 2020, according to town staff. Holly Springs is expected to grow by at least 8,200 to more than 38,000 residents by 2020.
School system officials already are searching for land near the intersection of N.C. 55 and Ten-Ten Road to build another high school, Desormeaux said. The system already owns land on Old Honeycutt Road in Fuquay-Varina where it plans to build a high school in the future.
Despite the growth in southern Wake, there’s no guarantee the school board will choose to build high schools in Fuquay-Varina or Holly Springs.
Except for Knightdale High and Wake Forest High, every high school in the county is operating over capacity, Desormeaux said.
Susan Evans, the school board member who represents western Wake County including parts of Fuquay-Varina, said the board must be judicious.
“They’re not lost or forgotten, but their needs have to be weighed in composite with the whole county,” she said. “West Cary would like some schools right now, too, but we’ve got to balance all of that.”
The school board may be able to fund renovations to Fuquay-Varina High School as part of the district’s capital improvement plans, Evans said.
Fuquay-Varina officials and business leaders plan to further plead their case when Evans visits town in February for a district meeting.
In the meantime, the resolution passed last week will serve as a reminder that Fuquay-Varina officials supported the construction bonds in the past, but Mayor Pro-Tem Charlie Adcock adds they didn’t get much in return.
In Holly Springs, Sears is holding out hope that new commissioners might provide school funding sooner than expected. He’s asking residents to keep the need for more schools in mind as they vote for commissioners this fall.
Incumbent Republican Commissioner Phil Matthews, who represents the towns on the board, is running for reelection against Democrat Matt Calabria.
Commissioners “really need to open up the coffers,” Sears said.