Midtown Raleigh News

Wake County asks for help finding land for new schools

Wake County school administrators repeatedly asked Thursday for the development community’s help finding sites for new schools at a time when it’s getting harder to locate large tracts.

The school system has been in land-buying mode since voters last month approved an $810 million school construction bond issue that would build 16 new schools and pay for purchases of school sites. School administrators are still looking for sites for 15 schools that would be built from the recent bond issue and from another bond issue that could go before voters within the next three years.

“If you’re out there and you see places that you think would be great for us, please keep some of those things in mind,” said Joe Desormeaux, Wake’s assistant superintendent for facilities. “Pass them on to us. We’d be more than glad to check.”

Desormeaux made his presentation in front of about 100 people at a forum sponsored by the Triangle Community Coalition, a group that represents the interests of builders and developers. The development community helped contribute thousands of dollars to the bond referendum campaign.

Real-estate agents, engineers, developers and elected officials were among those who came Thursday to hear about where and when the school system is looking to build new schools. Craig Duerr, a civil engineer at Withers & Ravenel, asked how the development community could partner with the school system.

“One of the reasons that we wanted to hear from you guys is to try to figure out how we as a development community can better interact with the schools,” he said.

Desormeaux quipped that school officials would “drool over that opportunity” of a partnership, as he asked for business cards from the attendees.

Betty Parker, the school district’s director of real-estate services, had a large pile of business cards by the end of the meeting.

Desormeaux pointed to how a development company that’s planning to build a 2,200-home community in northeast Raleigh gave the school system a good price for land that will be used for a new middle school.

With the help of N.C. State University’s Operations Research/Education Laboratory, the school system has identified 5-mile-wide target circles across the county for future schools. Desormeaux said the sites track the current and future route of Interstate 540.

Desormeaux said the district looks for 20-plus acres for an elementary school, 30 acres for a middle school and 64 acres for a high school. He said the best sites are those that are undeveloped, have good road access and are connected to water and sewer.

But Desormeaux said it’s getting harder to find large sites that meet the district’s needs. The school district is competing against commercial and residential developers who are also looking for large tracts.

“Things have changed when it comes to finding land out there since 2000,” he said.

Desormeaux said the school system historically avoided sites that are too close to highways because of sound and air quality issues. He said officials also tried to avoid locations near businesses and industries that are unsafe or risque.

“Everybody’s been comfortable with the way things have been up till now, but pretty soon the availability of land is going to get to the point that some of these things are going to have to become acceptable,” he said.