The Wake County Board of Commissioners approved Tuesday a pair of leases that could cost $9.2 million over the next decade to allow the school system to operate high school programs in Wake Forest and Cary.
Commissioners agreed to a 10-year, $5.2 million extension of the Wake County school system’s lease of the former Winn-Dixie supermarket at 931 Durham Road in Wake Forest. Wakefield High School now houses its freshmen there, but the students will leave at some point to make room for what school officials say will be an "innovative high school program.”
Commissioners also agreed to a 10-year, $4 million lease of office space at 5651 Dillard Drive in Cary next to the school district’s main headquarters. School officials plan to offer a variety of high school programs there serving students who’ve been suspended from school or who just need a different kind of high school environment.
Both deals were unanimously approved, but commissioners had concerns that they weren’t being given enough time to consider the Cary lease and that the location would make it hard for some students to go there. Both leases need to also be approved by the state with the Cary deal needing to be approved in February for it to go through.
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“The services are absolutely needed,” Commissioner John Burns said. “I commend the school system for reaching out to these particular students and trying to find something to do with them.
“I would vote to support those services any day of the week. I’m just concerned about the positioning we’re in.”
One proposed use for the Cary site is the creation of a high school program that offers flexible hours during which students could come in for a mix of online courses and face-to-face instruction.
An additional use for the Cary site would be as an “alternative learning center hub” to educate students who’ve received long-term suspensions of more than 10 days. School officials say they can also use the space to provide “wraparound services,” such as counseling, to help those students as they transition back to their regular school.
Commission res questioned how students, particularly those are who suspended, will be able to reach the Cary site if there’s no school bus service provided. School officials said they’re in contact with the public transit systems in Raleigh and Cary about having the students ride those buses.
Cathy Moore, deputy superintendent for academic advancement, also told commissioners that the district will use the Cary site to test the programs before offering them throughout the district. This explanation lessened concerns commissioners have that these new programs will only be available to students who can provide their own transportation.
“I want to make sure that it’s conveyed to the public that we are incredibly excited about this effort,” said Commissioner Jessica Holmes. “And I do believe that these programs will truly make a difference for students that really are in desperate need of them.
“Although I have my concerns, I think you all have really convinced me, or reassured me, that the transportation issues will be addressed.”