Wake Ed

Wake County school board approves $1.98 billion building program

Every parking space out in front of the Apex High school main entrance is filled at midday Thursday, January 28, 2016. Apex High’s renovation is among the projects included in a new $1.98 billion school construction program approved by the Wake County school board.
Every parking space out in front of the Apex High school main entrance is filled at midday Thursday, January 28, 2016. Apex High’s renovation is among the projects included in a new $1.98 billion school construction program approved by the Wake County school board. hlynch@newsobserver.com

The Wake County school board approved a $1.98 billion school construction program on Tuesday that would cover most of the district’s needs to 2023.

The new long-range building program includes 14 new schools, 11 major school renovations and a variety of items, such as buying more new technology and sites for future schools. It’s a rolling seven-year plan, which means school and county staff will review it annually to include new projects.

“This is a long-term plan that will continually be updated,” said school board member Jim Martin. “This is the kind of wise planning that we need going forward.”

The school board approved a resolution Tuesday asking the Wake County Board of Commissioners to provide the $1.98 billion.

The projects would be funded over multiple years so the public wouldn’t be asked to approve a nearly $2 billion bond referendum in one vote. But commissioners, who met with the school board as the program was being developed, haven’t yet decided on when to put the first bond referendum on the ballot.

Commissioners are considering whether to wait until 2018 to put a school construction bond referendum on the ballot instead of November 2016. If commissioners wait, the county would issue a small amount of bonds to cover school construction needs for the next few years.

The school system adjusted the timing of the projects to fit within the county’s debt model for funding capital projects. It will eventually require a property tax-increase to fund the building program.

Many of the 10 new elementary schools, two middle schools and two high schools in the program 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.

“This is a program that moves us forward in terms of dealing with some long-overdue capital needs,” said school board member Bill Fletcher, chairman of the facilities committee.

In most cases, students would need to temporarily relocate off campus while their schools are renovated.

For instance, students at Wiley Elementary near downtown Raleigh would 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.

The projected 2019 opening of a new high school near Old Honeycutt and Kennebec roads would allow students and staff from Fuquay-Varina High to temporarily relocate there while their campus is rebuilt.

Between the 2018-19 and 2020-21 school years, Stough, North Ridge and Conn elementary schools would each take turns spending a year at a site on Spring Forest Road next to East Millbrook Middle School while their campuses are rebuilt.

Some families are unhappy that they’re not among the first projects funded in the new building program. Other families are upset their schools weren’t included at all.

“This was a difficult list for us to prioritize,” said school board Vice Chairman Monika Johnson-Hostler. “There were clearly folks that were just on the cusp.”

Fletcher added that the list of included projects doesn’t cover all the district’s needs.

Fletcher cited the example of an elementary school, which he didn’t name, where classroom temperatures rose to 85 degrees last week during state end-of-grade testing. Fletcher said while urgent repairs were made to the cooling system, the school isn’t in the building program.

“While this is a comprehensive plan – it is looking out seven years – it does not do everything that needs to be done,” Fletcher said.

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