Education

Joint Southeast Raleigh elementary school/YMCA may open in 2019

Kenneth Earp tosses used tires down to his son Duran to stack for sale at Watson's Flea Market off Rock Quarry Road in Southeast Raleigh in 2000. The YMCA of the Triangle now owns the site and wants to partner with the Wake County school system to build a joint Y/elementary school facility there.
Kenneth Earp tosses used tires down to his son Duran to stack for sale at Watson's Flea Market off Rock Quarry Road in Southeast Raleigh in 2000. The YMCA of the Triangle now owns the site and wants to partner with the Wake County school system to build a joint Y/elementary school facility there. News & Observer file photo

In three years, part of the former Watson’s Flea Market in Southeast Raleigh could become the site of a joint Wake County elementary school and YMCA facility that would serve one of the most economically depressed areas in the county.

Wake County school board members heard an update Monday on plans for a fall 2019 opening of a joint elementary school and YMCA of the Triangle facility.

The shared school and YMCA would form part of a complex off Rock Quarry Road near Interstate 40 that would also include affordable housing, a health care facility and commercial space such as a grocery store.

“I’m really, really excited about this,” said school board member Kevin Hill, chairman of the board’s student achievement committee. “I think this is pretty neat.”

The goal is to break the cycle of inter-generational poverty in Southeast Raleigh, where student test scores are far below the district average. As part of that effort, the YMCA acquired the former flea market site and wants the school system’s help in providing area children with a comprehensive education from birth to college.

The joint school/YMCA would include amenities such as a gymnasium beyond what Wake typically would provide and a swimming pool, which is not part of the elementary school model. But the school would still remain under the control of the school system.

Kia Baker, director of the Southeast Raleigh Promise Project, which is leading the community side of the effort, said the housing should be ready by 2019. She said the rest of the project may also be ready by the time the school opens.

The Wake County Board of Commissioners, which will decide whether to fund construction of the school, will hear a presentation on the project Wednesday.

School administrators said Monday that many details still need to be worked out, including how the 500 students will be selected and what academic programs will be offered.

“This could be a highly innovative first-of-its-kind school in North Carolina,” said school board Chairman Tom Benton.

Benton said the district should be ready to ask state legislators for flexibility to offer special programs at the school.

School board member Jim Martin said the board needs to be involved in determining how the school will be filled. Wake could take applications from families, or it could also assign some students based on where they live.

Martin said school leaders need to consider how the new school will affect nearby elementary schools, which have high concentrations of low-income students.

“I don’t want us to get into a situation where it looks like we’re putting some of the surrounding schools at risk,” Martin said.

T. Keung Hui: 919-829-4534, @nckhui

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