Wake Ed

Wake County school board reviews $1.99 billion building program

Mills Park Middle School sixth graders move through the hallways between periods in Cary, N.C. on May 19, 2015. Mills Park is so crowded that some Wake County school leaders want to speed up construction of a new middle school near Alston Ridge Elementary.
Mills Park Middle School sixth graders move through the hallways between periods in Cary, N.C. on May 19, 2015. Mills Park is so crowded that some Wake County school leaders want to speed up construction of a new middle school near Alston Ridge Elementary. clowenst@newsobserver.com

Wake County school board members came closer Tuesday toward approving a new nearly $2 billion school construction program after school administrators found a way to speed up work on two middle schools.

School administrators presented last week two scenarios, each costing $2 billion, for a building program that would cover 2017 to 2023. But board members raised concerns that the construction of a new middle school in Cary and renovation of East Wake Middle School might not both be completed by 2020.

Administrators presented Tuesday a third scenario of $1.986 billion that moves around projects, including splitting up funding for more projects over multiple years. The result is that the new Cary middle school could be open in 2019 and East Wake’s renovation could be done by 2020.

Some other projects were accelerated, including the renovation of West Millbrook Middle School in Raleigh that could be completed a year earlier in 2023.

But coming up with the money means delaying the opening of Poole Road Elementary in Southeast Raleigh to 2020. Wake is able to buy some time with Poole Road Elementary because it will take longer to meet city and state traffic requirements around the school.

School board member Susan Evans said staff was inventive in finding a way to speed up the opening of the new middle school near Alston Ridge Elementary in Cary. She has said the new school will provide needed relief to overcrowded schools such as Mills Park Middle.

“I’m just very, very pleased that we found some ways to be able to accommodate that,” Evans said. “I just want to say thanks for all that work.”

The school board is scheduled to vote June 7 on a resolution requesting that the Wake County Board of Commissioners fund the next building program. The options on the table would fund 14 new schools, 11 major school renovations and a variety of items, such as buying more new technology and sites for future schools

Commissioners would not try to borrow the $2 billion all at once. They could over the next few years put multiple school bond referendums on the ballot for voter approval, or the county could borrow money without seeking voter approval.

The commissioners are considering waiting until 2018 to put a school bond referendum on the ballot. In that case, the county would borrow money for the school system to use for the next two years.

Many of the 10 new elementary schools, two middle schools and two high schools are near the current and future route of Interstate 540/N.C. 540, particularly in southwest Wake.

The schools proposed for renovations are spread around the county. They are Wiley, Stough, North Ridge, York and Conn elementary schools, and West Millbrook Middle in Raleigh; East Wake Middle near Knightdale; Vandora Springs Elementary in Garner; Apex High, Fuquay-Varina High and Wendell Elementary.

In most cases, students would need to relocate temporarily while their campuses are renovated.

For instance, students at Wiley Elementary near downtown Raleigh could move in 2018 to a former movie theater in Garner that now houses Garner High’s freshmen. Garner High won’t need the theater after its renovations are done.

Stough Elementary in Raleigh is proposed to move in 2018 to a site on Spring Forest Road near East Millbrook Middle.

“There continues to be concern about the distance of where some of these swing spaces are from the current schools,” said school board member Bill Fletcher. “That does not mean there are alternatives that are any better.”

School board member Christine Kushner added that it wouldn’t be wise to delay the renovations at Stough any further in hopes of finding a closer swing space site.

School board Chairman Tom Benton asked about families who want to know if there’s any way to speed up renovations at Fuquay-Varina High School. Assistant Superintendent Joe Desormeaux said they couldn’t speed up the 2019 opening of a new high school near Fuquay-Varina any sooner. The plan is to relocate Fuquay-Varina High’s students there during the renovation work

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