Education

Raleigh car dealership might become Wake County high school

New cars on the lot wait for buyers at the Capital Chevrolet car dealership, formerly Bobby Murray Chevrolet, on August 17, 2016. The Wake County Public School System recently purchased the property on Capital Blvd inside the 440 Beltline to build a new high school.
New cars on the lot wait for buyers at the Capital Chevrolet car dealership, formerly Bobby Murray Chevrolet, on August 17, 2016. The Wake County Public School System recently purchased the property on Capital Blvd inside the 440 Beltline to build a new high school. cseward@newsobserver.com

A longtime Raleigh institution where people have bought cars for 50 years could become home for a new Wake County high school.

The Wake County school board agreed this week to pay $6.4 million for the land that houses Capital Chevrolet, previously known as Bobby Murray Chevrolet, at 1820 Capital Blvd. near Fenton Street. School leaders want to build a small high school on the 12.1-acre property after the car dealership moves out.

The purchase marks the latest effort to find land for a new high school closer to downtown Raleigh. It also comes at a time when county commissioners say the district needs to rethink the traditional high school construction model, which requires about 64 acres and includes several athletic fields.

“We have been looking for something around the Beltline because the projections inside the Beltline show growth will continue,” school board Chairman Tom Benton said Wednesday. “As growth with young people continues, there’s going to be more families with school-age children.”

A clause in the contract allows the school system to further inspect the site before moving forward.

A similar clause resulted in the school board backing out in October on an offer to purchase the former Corning Glass Works industrial plant in northeast Raleigh. Further review led to the discovery of more soil contamination from chlorinated solvents – which can cause respiratory or other health issues – than previously identified.

After the Corning deal fell through, Wake focused on the car dealership. School administrators are more confident about the new site.

“We have some preliminary information that makes it seem like there’s nothing of significance,” said Joe Desormeaux, Wake’s assistant superintendent for facilities.

The move would represent a major transformation in the history of the property.

In 1966, Bobby Murray opened Triangle Chevrolet on the site just three years after the nearby Capital Boulevard exit on the Beltline opened. The dealership was renamed Bobby Murray Chevrolet in 1973.

Last year, Bobby Murray Chevrolet received approval from Wake Forest town leaders to relocate the dealership to U.S. 1 near the Shearon Farms neighborhood.

In March, Raleigh-based Capital Automotive Group of North Carolina acquired Bobby Murray Chevrolet and changed the name to Capital Chevrolet. But the Murray Investment Company retained ownership of the land, which it leases to the dealership.

Randy Mason, a spokesman for Capital Automotive, said Capital Chevrolet plans to relocate to Wake Forest within two years.

Under the terms of the purchase contract, Capital Chevrolet would pay its $50,000-a-month rent payment to the school system.

When the dealership opened, a 1966 News & Observer article described it as “situated on a hill surrounded by pleasant landscaping.” The area hasn’t held up as well over the past half century.

The City of Raleigh’s 2012 Capital Boulevard Corridor Study described the stretch from the Beltline to downtown as “the most-travelled and least-loved gateway into downtown Raleigh.” Since then, the city has taken steps to improve the corridor’s appearance.

“We just think it fits really neatly into plans for development for that corridor,” Benton said.

Benton said the new school could open as soon as 2019 depending on when the dealership moves and how long it takes to renovate the property.

One of the issues that would need to be resolved is whether the school would offer a special theme. The property’s small size means it can’t be like a traditional Wake high school that has more than 2,000 students.

Final approval of the purchase will rest with the Wake County Board of Commissioners.

Commissioners’ chairman James West of Raleigh said he’s not familiar with the details of the purchase but is optimistic about the possibilities. There are many neighborhoods between Capital Boulevard and New Bern Avenue that might be interested in a specialty school there.

“The density is there, so there are some possibilities,” West said.

“If it’s reasonable in terms of price and it fits in terms of goals (school board members) have ... I think it’s something certainly worth exploring,” West continued. “It could be something really innovative.”

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

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