Seventh-grader Morgan Mears used a permanent marker to trace the outline of her hand onto a wall at Brooks Elementary School.
“I’m filling in my hand,” Morgan said as she added the names of her elementary school teachers along each finger.
Morgan and her friend, Carlyle Kennedy, attended Brooks before they moved on to middle school. They were among several students, alumni and parents who visited Brooks this week to sign their names and write messages on the walls.
This summer, crews will begin to raze the school’s oldest sections, built in the 1960s, and renovate a section built about 17 years ago. Students will attend classes in a modular campus until the new facility is complete.
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“We’re leaving our mark on Brooks and we’re going down with the building,” said Felecia Locklear, principal of the school near the North Hills area of Raleigh.
When it opened half a century ago, Brooks was one of the city’s early suburban schools, catering to newly arriving families lured by jobs in Research Triangle Park.
As Raleigh grew to the north and Wake County built more schools, Brooks and many others just outside the Interstate 440 Beltline began to see dwindling enrollment numbers. Some students in the area were reassigned elsewhere, and some families chose other school options for their children.
In response to changes, Wake turned some schools outside the Beltline, including Brooks, into magnet schools to attract families who live outside the immediate neighborhood and to entice neighborhood families who had chosen to attend other schools. Brooks became a magnet in 2002 and now enrolls about 580 students, roughly 40 students over capacity.
The $22.4 million construction project at Brooks will add needed on-site parking and space for carpool lanes, which will accommodate parents who drive their children to and from school.
During the roughly one-year construction period, Brooks will temporarily move to a modular campus on Spring Forest Road in North Raleigh.
Green Elementary School will leave the temporary campus this spring after two years. A $23 million facelift at Green, located on Six Forks Road, will wrap up this summer.
Both school renovations are funded by a $810 million bond approved by voters in 2013.
Locklear said she and teachers toured the modular campus near East Millbrook Middle School and liked what they saw.
“The teachers there now say, ‘You’re going to love being here,’ ” she said.
In the new space, staff members are looking forward to some upgrades. The aging air conditioners at Brooks break frequently, and heaters are known to make a racket when switching on, Locklear said.
“Honestly, it’s like someone hitting on steel pipes,” she said.
Brooks parent Laura Munn said the modular campus will complicate her work commute.
“It’s going to be a challenge, but we will make it work,” she said.
Next school year, Munn’s sons, 9-year-old Rhett and 5-year-old Trevor, will attend Brooks. Her daughter, Megan, is completing fifth-grade and leaving Brooks for middle school.
Megan said she was sorry to see the old building go.
“It’s really sad because I kind of grew up in this school,” she said.
Leaving the school behind has also been sentimental for Locklear, who has been the principal at Brooks for 15 years.
Locklear said the community is proud of the school, and she looks forward to a new building. But she said it won’t be quite the same.
“I’m just going to miss that feel when you come in here,” she said. “Because it just feels like home.”
Chris Cioffi: 919-829-4802, @ReporterCioffi