Chapel Hill News

City schools brainstorming possibilities for expanded Lincoln Center campus

Students leave Phoenix Academy High School at the end of classes Thursday, Nov. 19, 2015, in Chapel Hill, NC. The alternative school, which serves up to 45 high school students, would be replaced as part of a proposed Lincoln Center campus expansion.
Students leave Phoenix Academy High School at the end of classes Thursday, Nov. 19, 2015, in Chapel Hill, NC. The alternative school, which serves up to 45 high school students, would be replaced as part of a proposed Lincoln Center campus expansion.

Details are developing about a $22.6 million expansion of the Lincoln Center campus.

The Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools wants to build a dedicated pre-K school, a larger Phoenix Academy High School and new administrative offices on the South Merritt Mill Road campus in 2017. The roughly 13-acre project would keep an existing maintenance building and gym.

School officials have asked the council to fast-track the approval process so they can start construction late next year.

It’s one of at least two projects that could be completed if voters approve a $125 million county bond next year, said Todd LoFrese, the district’s assistant superintendent for support services. The other is a $52.4 million renovation to replace the main building at Chapel Hill High School and fix disability access, public safety and maintenance issues.

The Lincoln Center expansion alone could make room for 189 more elementary students and up to 100 high school students in existing Chapel Hill-Carrboro schools, LoFrese said. That would delay the need to build new schools.

Town Councilwoman Maria Palmer, while reviewing the plan last week, suggested the district also think about its new Lincoln Center campus as a place where students can learn a trade. The district could work with Durham Tech, UNC Hospitals and the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce, among others.

“I see our students bagging groceries, kids who did everything we asked them to do, who graduated from East and Chapel Hill High School and many from Phoenix Academy, and they don’t have marketable skills,” Palmer said. “At the same time, we have the home builders association desperately saying we need to train people in the building trades.”

Up to 45 students attend Phoenix Academy and 30 more are on a waiting list, officials said. The Bridge Program for students with mental health issues – now in a mobile unit on campus – would move into the new high school building. Middle schoolers could join them in the future, spokesman Jeff Nash said.

The district is moving ahead with planning and design for the new campus, LoFrese said, but they also are talking with teachers, parents and others about potential learning opportunities.

Have a preschool and Phoenix Academy on the same campus, for instance, creates the possibility of an early childhood education track, he said. Other suggestions have included food service operations and medical programs, as well as a building inspector certification program, he said.

The district already offers and could expand Project Lead the Way, a national curriculum aimed at high school students interested in engineering and biomedical and computer science careers, he said.

“Student interests should drive the programming that we’re providing,” LoFrese said. “In reality, it does across our district, so the courses that students sign up for or ask for shape what our offerings are going to be.”

The key is finding the right balance of available funding, academic space and student interests, he said. State and federal funding cuts have tightened academic and construction budgets, and the situation isn’t likely to improve, he said.

The plan is to deal with more than $161 million in repairs and updates identified at the district’s 10 oldest schools, so they can be used for another 50 years, he said. Attention then could turn to needs at the remaining schools, most of which are at least 20 years old.

Current and incoming school board members James Barrett and Rani Dasi said they would be supportive of more opportunities and creative programs.

Timing and funding can be a challenge, Dasi said, but she has met older workers who used their apprenticeships to land good jobs in the plumbing, electrical work and other trades. They need younger employees, she said.

“I don’t think it precludes the opportunity of (students) ever going to a traditional college,” Dasi said. They can learn a trade and “then go to a four-year university and get the business management skills that enable them to own their own plumbing company or electrician company.”

Tammy Grubb: 919-829-8926, @TammyGrubb

Project details

Planning for the Lincoln Center campus expansion is ongoing, but here are some details:

▪ What’s leaving: The 5,622-square-foot Phoenix Academy building and roughly three-quarters of the 33,731-square-foot Lincoln Center building could be demolished. The new preschool could replace a large, community play field beside South Merritt Mill Road

▪ What’s staying: A 22,388-square-foot maintenance building and an existing gym

▪ What’s new: A two-story, 62,000-square-foot building for at least 250 preschool students in 20 ground-floor classrooms and second-floor district offices; a 26,150-square-foot Phoenix Academy High School for up to 150 students; two smaller play areas; and new driveways and parking lots

▪ Saving history: The district is working with the O.C.T.S.-Lincoln High-Northside Alumni Association to preserve the campus’s history as an all-black high school from 1950 to 1966, and the history of two other all-black schools