A slowdown in the number of new students expected to come to Wake County in the next several years could result in more money being put into major school renovation projects.
Wake County school administrators say revised student enrollment projections show three fewer new elementary schools need to be built after 2020. Staff told the school board’s facilities committee Wednesday that they expect to recommend reallocating the money from those three new schools toward three additional major school renovation projects.
“Use that available funding that’s freed up because the elementary schools are not going to be built and go further down your list of needs of renovations and replacements,” Joe Desormeaux, assistant superintendent for facilities, told the school board committee.
Facilities staff have not yet recommended which additional aging middle school and two old elementary schools would get major renovations as a result of not building the new schools.
Each renovated school could see much of their campus demolished and rebuilt. Major renovation projects can cost as much as building a new school.
For instance, students and staff returned in August to a rebuilt Green Elementary School in Raleigh after they temporarily relocated off site during the renovations. Starting in August, students and staff at Apex High School will temporarily relocate to a site in Cary for two years while their campus is rebuilt..
In May, the school board approved a $1.98 billion school construction program through 2023 that the Wake County Board of Commissioners agreed to fund. It’s expected voters will be asked to approve a school construction bond referendum that will be placed on the ballot in 2018.
The school district is now updating the seven-year capital improvement plan to run through 2024.
The plan adopted last year called for 14 new schools (10 elementary schools, two middle schools and two high schools) and 11 major renovations to be done over a seven-year period.
But since then, county planners have updated student enrollment projections to reflect factors such as the increased competition from charter schools and the slow economic recovery in Wake.
Under the latest student enrollment projections, Wake could add 25,781 new students by the 2025-26 school year. While that’s a lot of students, it’s 4,068 students fewer than was projected last year.
Desormeaux said school staff are not recommending any changes in the number of new schools and renovation projects that would be completed by 2020. But he said the updated enrollment projections means less new elementary schools are needed between 2021 and 2024.
Desormeaux said Wake can reallocate the money from those three new schools to complete two major elementary school renovations that would be done before 2024 and a middle school renovation that would finish in 2024.
“Yes, you’re reducing the number of new schools,” Desormeaux said. “But you’re increasing the number of renovations.”
In addition to reallocating money to fund those three renovations, the updated plan could also add the major renovation of an elementary school that would be completed in 2024. This would mean 15 major renovations over a seven-year period.
School staff are working on which schools are recommended to get major renovations. Wake typically looks at renovating schools where large portions of the campus are more than 40 years old.
The facilities committee will get an update on the revised seven-year plan in March.
Desormeaux said the full school board and county commissioners could hold a joint meeting in April to review the new plan. The school board could adopt the new plan in April.