Wake Ed

Long wait for West Millbrook Middle School’s renovations questioned

Middle-school boys play hoops against the male faculty at West Millbrook Middle School in Raleigh in this 2002 file photo. Proposed renovations at West Millbrook aren’t slated to be competed until 2023.
Middle-school boys play hoops against the male faculty at West Millbrook Middle School in Raleigh in this 2002 file photo. Proposed renovations at West Millbrook aren’t slated to be competed until 2023. News & Observer file photo

The timing of the renovations at West Millbrook Middle School in North Raleigh drew frustration at Wednesday’s Wake County school board facilities committee meeting.

West Millbrook is slated to get a $78.5 million renovation that would result in the replacement of the current building at the intersection of Strickland and Falls of Neuse roads. But, assuming funding is provided on schedule, construction isn’t set to begin until summer 2021 and be completed until just before the start of the 2023-24 school year.

The facilities committee reviewed Wednesday this year’s update to the district’s rolling seven-year school construction program. New school board member Kathy Hartenstine, who wasn’t in office when the plan was first adopted last year, said it was “very curious” that West Millbrook’s renovations are so far out.

Joe Desormeaux, assistant superintendent for facilities, replied that the schedule for West Millbrook’s renovation is unchanged from last year.

“It really boiled down to the priorities for the elementaries and the other schools, and the availability of cash flow to get to that school,” Desormeaux said.

The school system is scheduling construction projects to match the amount that county finance staff says will be available each year. The current funding model calls for a school construction bond referendum of around $1 billion to be put on the May 2018 ballot.

The full school board is scheduled to review the updated list of projects and a draft resolution asking commissioners for funding on May 2.

School board member Bill Fletcher, chair of the facilities committee, asked if his colleagues had any questions about the schedule of projects, aside from the ones about West Millbrook that he noted were asked several times before by former board members Zora Felton and Kevin Hill.

Hartenstine stepped in by pointing back to how she had served as principal of Baileywick Elementary School in Raleigh from 2008 to 2016. Baileywick is one of the elementary schools that sends students to West Millbrook.

“Having served in that community for eight years, it has been a huge, huge problem in maintaining the health of several of the feeder schools,” Hartenstine said of building conditions at West Millbrook. “And it has encouraged the development and the establishment of so many charter schools in that area and private schools that folks are trying to escape from West Millbrook.

“They have a great, fabulous program. The program is great. It’s the building and the concern for safety in that building.”

Fletcher responded by saying he thinks the delay in West Millbrook’s renovations may be due to how there’s no plan to swing students off campus during the construction work. The plan is to keep students in the existing building until the new building is completed.

In contrast, many renovation projects see Wake moving students off campus while the construction occurs. This means Wake typically coordinates major school renovations to when swing-space sites are available.

Desormeaux said he’d word Fletcher’s statement about West Millbrook a little bit differently by saying “because it does not need swing space it did not get accelerated.”

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