When it rains, the roof leaks and sandbags are brought out to stop flooding at Fuquay-Varina High School.
Yet sandbags weren’t enough for the last storm, when the school’s administrators had to evacuate their swamped offices, and some classes had to temporarily shift to new, drier rooms.
“We’re concerned about interruptions when we’re dispersing classrooms because of rain, like we did recently,” Principal Jonathan Enns said.
Enns attended a meeting April 28 between town officials, Fuquay-Varina Chamber of Commerce members and Wake County Board of Education member Susan Evans.
The chamber invited Evans with two requests in mind. They would like for Fuquay-Varina to have a second high school and that the existing 40-year-old school get renovated.
Evans didn’t make definitive promises, noting that the county commissioners, not the school board, control funding for new schools and improvements.
But the school board already owns land in Fuquay-Varina for potential sties, and Evans said it’s only a matter of time before there’s a new high school, as well as middle and elementary schools.
“There certainly will be schools coming there,” she said. “Whether that’s two years from now, four years, six years, eight years, that depends on how the data shakes out.”
She was referring to data on the town’s growth. Wake County Schools splits the county into 10 districts for predicting growth, and most of them have had lower-than-expected growth, including Fuquay-Varina’s district.
But chamber member Susan Payne said she thinks the district’s projections aren’t properly accounting for the vast number of new houses that will be built in Fuquay-Varina over the next few years.
Mark Matthews, the assistant town manager, laid out maps and pointed to growth near the intersection of Hilltop-Needmore and Sunset Lake roads, as well as in the southeast with the booming South Lakes neighborhood.
“By 2020, you’ve already got 350 school children just in South Lakes,” he predicted.
Evans agreed that Fuquay-Varina is one of the fastest-growing areas around. But the density of students still lags behind other areas in Wake County also in need of schools, she said, particularly West Cary.
Jostling for attention
Evans said there could be another school bond in 2016 and that Fuquay-Varina High School renovations, a new school, or both, could be on it.
While crowding at the high school isn’t the worst in the county – about 25 percent of students at are in modular units, compared to more than 35 percent at some schools – Evans said renovations are clearly needed.
“Apex High and Fuquay High are the same age and desperately in need of renovations,” she said. “And Garner High is in the same category. The problem is those renovations are so expensive.”
Apex and Garner high schools were both selected to get renovations in the 2013 bond. Apex is scheduled for $8 million in renovations while Garner is set for $67.8 million in major restructuring. Evans said Fuquay was left out because it is in the best shape of the three.
One Fuquay-Varina school, Lincoln Heights Elementary, received $22 million for renovations in that bond. The work is scheduled to be finished in late 2017.
Payne and others at the meeting, including Mayor John Byrne and Mayor Pro Tem Charlie Adcock, said they feel students and teachers at Fuquay-Varina High shouldn’t be punished in a worn-down school because its condition isn’t as bad as other nearby schools.
Simply being in better shape than Apex or Garner doesn’t mean much, some said. Fuquay’s heating and air system has broken down multiple times this year, Payne said, and sewage sometimes leaks in the auditorium.
When one of Wake County’s 116 schools needs a maintenance team, the school files a request.
“I think we had maybe the third-highest requests for work orders last year,” Enns said. “I mean, yeah. We have sandbags outside the doors to keep water out.”
When a classroom floods, Enns said, it’s hard to find empty space to move to. The school’s capacity is 2,150 students, and next year he’s expecting around 2,269.
Byrne urged the meeting’s attendees to start attending and speaking up at school board and county commissioner meetings about the town’s high school needs. While the school board relies mostly on growth data to make decisions, he said, politics also can be involved.
Byrne said they need to be vocal “because we’re not the only town in Wake County that needs it.”
Doran: 919-460-2604; Twitter: @will_doran