Midtown Raleigh News

Wake identifies new school sites

Raleigh and western Wake could get most of the new Wake County schools in this fall’s school construction bond referendum, but school leaders say it won’t be easy finding the land to build them.

School administrators on Friday identified where they’d like to build 16 schools that are part of this fall’s bond referendum and 20 more schools for a future bond program. But 19 of those don’t yet have sites, and several are proposed in areas where it’s difficult to find land parcels large enough for a school campus.

“The difficulty in finding 20 usable acres in Wake County is hard enough, let alone 60 acres for a high school,” school board member Bill Fletcher said.

The school board has requested the Wake County Board of Commissioners put an $810 million bond on the ballot Oct. 8 to fund the bulk of a $983.8 million building program. Among the list of projects is 16 new schools – 11 elementary, three middle and two high schools.

Joe Desormeaux, assistant superintendent for facilities, said many of the school sites are near the 540 Loop because of where most of the county’s growth is taking place.

Administrators are recommending seven schools to be built in Raleigh, seven in western Wake and two in Garner.

Wake owns eight of the 16 sites – locations for high schools in Garner and west Cary, and middle schools in northwest Raleigh, northeast Raleigh and west Apex – but has land for only three of the 11 elementary schools in northeast Raleigh, Garner and Apex.

Administrators would have to find land to locate eight more schools in northeast Raleigh, the Brier Creek area of northwest Raleigh, Holly Springs, between Holly Springs and Fuquay-Varina, two in East Raleigh, and two in Cary near Durham.

“We’re going to have a tough time meeting this,” Desormeaux said.

School officials may have to alter which elementary schools are built first, he said. Schools intended for the later bond issue could be built sooner than those on the first bond list, depending on success in finding and purchasing suitable locations.

Looking down the road, Wake owns sites for only nine of the 20 schools it wants to build with a possible 2016 bond.

With so much land to acquire, Desormeaux said, they’re looking at sites that are smaller than typical.

For instance, Wake now builds high schools that can hold 2,300 students. Desormeaux said they’re considering land for 1,700-student high schools, especially in areas such as Brier Creek, where Wake has long had problems finding sites.

Depending on how small the properties are, school officials said, they might have to adjust what those schools offer.

Legislation that would give Wake commissioners control of school construction is another variable in the school-building plan. The bill, which has already been approved by the state Senate, allows school officials to request where they want schools to be built but leaves the final decision to the county commissioners.