Southwest Wake News

Fuquay-Varina leaders seek new schools sooner rather than later

Portia Hardy, a teacher’s assistant, works on vocabulary words with her students in a makeshift classroom at Fuquay-Varina High School on Wednesday, September 9, 2015 in Fuquay-Varina, N.C. The student body at Fuquay-Varina High School has grown to 2,000 students, forcing Principal Jonathan Enns to covert several small teacher workrooms into classrooms like this one.
Portia Hardy, a teacher’s assistant, works on vocabulary words with her students in a makeshift classroom at Fuquay-Varina High School on Wednesday, September 9, 2015 in Fuquay-Varina, N.C. The student body at Fuquay-Varina High School has grown to 2,000 students, forcing Principal Jonathan Enns to covert several small teacher workrooms into classrooms like this one. rwillett@newsobserver.com

Like much of the rest of western Wake County, Fuquay-Varina is poised to experience some busy years of school construction.

But it’s unclear how soon it will happen. The Wake County Board of Commissioners – which funds the construction of public schools – hasn’t decided whether they will issue a school bond this year.

The last bond in 2013 raised more than $810 million for various capital projects. Without a bond this year, the county likely would have about half that amount to spend on construction needs for the Wake County Public Schools System and Wake Technical Community College over the next two years.

But even without a bond for school construction, Fuquay-Varina leaders say they intend to be the proverbial squeaky wheel that gets attention – and money.

“We are not requesting,” Mayor John Byrne said at the town’s annual retreat. “We are expecting schools in our area.”

The school system already has approved design contracts for three new schools that will be built once funding is available. One is for a new high school in Fuquay-Varina. Combined with new middle schools in Cary and Garner, the three likely will cost about $160 million. The school system could have about $440 million to spend on school construction from now until 2018, so those three projects may have to jockey for priority.

Commissioner Charlie Adcock said Fuquay-Varina’s status as one of the fastest-growing towns in the state should make that decision easy.

In addition to the new high school, Fuquay-Varina is also on track to get a second middle school and one or two more elementary schools in the next few years.

The new middle school will be next to Herbert Akins Elementary School. As for elementary schools, a new elementary school in Holly Springs, off Piney Grove Wilbon Road, will draw from neighborhoods in western Fuquay-Varina. That school could open in 2018, and after that, Wake County plans to start building a new elementary school near the new, southern high school.

Renovations to Lincoln Heights Elementary, which will begin soon, could add several hundred more students to that campus once finished. Lincoln Heights is expected to switch to a year-round calendar starting in 2017-18, which could also increase its capacity.

High school issues

Byrne said he wants the new high school to be large – maybe one of the biggest in Wake County – so there won’t be worries over building a third high school in the near future.

Fuquay-Varina High School, with about 2,100 students, is one of the smallest high schools in Wake County.

The new high school, which doesn’t have a name yet, will be near the large South Lakes neighborhood in southeast Fuquay-Varina. Once it’s built, all the classes at Fuquay-Varina High School will move there while that school’s 40-year-old campus gets a much-needed makeover.

Heavy rain frequently causes flooding on campus, forcing some teachers to move to makeshift classrooms and causing students to joke on Twitter about new “swimming pools” on school grounds.

Town Manager Adam Mitchell said at the annual retreat last month that the board needs to make sure school and county officials know how much the renovations mean to them – and how important the construction of the new high school is.

“It can’t fall off their horizon,” Mitchell said. “If this thing is not open by 2018 or 2019, it will drastically affect the renovations at Fuquay-Varina High School.”

Mayor pro tem Blake Massengill agreed.

“Whatever is needed, count me in,” he said. “Because that high school is in dire need of renovation. If it doesn’t happen, the public is going to have a hissy fit, and I don’t blame them. I will, too.”

Fuquay-Varina’s rapid growth is driving the need for more schools. The town approved hundreds of new homes last year and is on track for even more this year, Mitchell said at the retreat.

Adcock said growth will slow, however, if more schools get capped, because that will discourage people from moving into neighborhoods near those schools.

Last month, the school board approved enrollment caps for Fuquay-Varina Elementary School and Fuquay-Varina High in 2016-17. That means new families who move into the area may need to send their children to other schools, even if they’re assigned to either school.

Will Doran: 919-460-2604; @will_doran

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