Ground had already been broken at the future site of South Garner High, but Garner and Wake County school system leaders held a symbolic, ceremonial photo op Wednesday morning to mark an occasion many say will alter the DNA of the town.
The ceremony kicked off a three-year countdown to the end of Garner as a one-school town. Some have lamented that loss of unity, identity and culture.
But others – including one intimately familiar with Garner Magnet High School’s culture – say the new facility bordered by Clifford, Hebron Church and Bethel Church roads presents a lot of benefits to the town.
Former Principal Drew Cook graduated from Garner High and spent more than a decade and a half working there, including five years as principal. He said many people realize the positive of having two state-of-the-art high school facilities.
“When you have a town where the identity for so long has been linked to a school, there’s going to be some uncertainty and anxiety,” said Cook, who days earlier moved to the central office in a promotion. “I think it has the potential to be a wonderful thing, community-wise.”
County Commissioner and Garnerite Phil Matthews and school board representative Monika Johnson-Hostler also attended the event and both pointed out the need for the school.
Garner Magnet High School’s population has swelled to around 2,400 students. In addition to multiple on-site mobile units, the school has spilled over into a re-purposed former movie theater in a shopping center across the street. Housing continues to be built, particularly on the southern part of town, some of it just a couple minutes from the new school.
“The other one is extremely crowded,” Matthews said of Garner High. “There is a lot of growth in this part of the community.”
But the town has rallied around Trojan Blue and Gold for decades. The old high school will itself see shovels soon; when South Garner is complete in the fall of 2016, Garner High will take the facility for a test drive for a year while its campus receives a $67 million renovation. South Garner will likely start with freshmen and sophomores in 2017.
Johnson-Hostler said it was too early to say from where the two schools will draw their students or how that might divide the town. She noted that initially the two schools would not be at capacity in 2017, but said numbers won’t be a problem given the school system’s growth.
“We are busting at the seems,” Johnson-Hostler said.
As for the changing culture, many have spoken about the opportunity to create a new, unique culture with the second school. Cook said he was looking forward to seeing it develop, and Johnson-Hostler said the new school wouldn’t change the pride and affection alumni had for theirs.
“It’s like a house divided in college football,” Johnson-Hostler said. “Rivalry isn’t all bad.”