09/12/06 — Spring Creek parents asking for more space

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Spring Creek parents asking for more space

By Andrew Bell
Published in News on September 12, 2006 1:52 PM

About 100 Spring Creek parents and concerned citizens attended the second county Facilities Master Plan Team meeting Monday night at Spring Creek High, many of whom had a new middle school on their minds.

The Spring Creek area doesn't have a stand-alone middle school building, said Shelby Benton, a member of the Spring Creek High School advisory committee. Instead, sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders have shared space with older students at Spring Creek High School for several years.

And now that the number of students in each age group has increased, Mrs. Benton said the resources are stretched.

The high school's sports teams, she said, have been forced to compromise when they can use the facility because they have to share it with the Middle School teams. Also, the amount of available space at Spring Creek High is dwindling, she added.

Some of the school's weight-training equipment is in the gym, because there isn't any other space for it. One Spring Creek High student was injured because of the equipment, but, fortunately, the student's parents didn't sue the school or the Wayne County Public Schools system, Mrs. Benton said.

Members of the Facilities Master Plan Team, particularly school board members, told parents and concerned citizens they are aware that the area needs a middle school and that cost has been included in the five-year facilities plan.

A new 124,000-square-foot middle school, which would accommodate 750 students but could hold as many as 900, is projected to cost $14.5 million, said Sprunt Hill, Wayne County Schools assistant superintendent for auxiliary services.

Board of Education member Pete Gurley said middle school students would also gain an educational benefit from having their own building. Studies have proven that middle school students with their own facility have higher test scores than others integrated into another building, Gurley said.

The middle school would also have its own athletic facilities to ease the pressure off the high school. If the middle school design works for Spring Creek, Hill said the same design could be utilized across the county.

"We're also looking at building similar middle schools in other areas, which could save us costs," Hill said.

Monday night's meeting was the second of six public forums sponsored by the Facilities Master Plan Team. The team consists of three members from Wayne County's Board of Education and three from the Board of Commissioners.

The idea is to take the facilities question to the citizens in the affected communities, present the plan and listen for feedback, allowing the county and the school district to come up a building plan that will address the facility and educational needs of Wayne County students, said Dr. Steven Taylor, Wayne County Public Schools superintendent.

During the past six years, the school board has created five facilities plans, Taylor said. Last fall, the county Board of Commissioners hired consultant Evergreen Solutions to assess school facilities needs, and the school board created a $90 million facilities plan before the consultant issued its final report.

Board of Education member George Moye said the school board would be ready to make improvements across the county when the projects can be financed.

Both boards have considered many avenues to fund the $90 million facilities plan, with the most-discussed option being a bond referendum, Taylor said.

Regardless of what funding avenue the master team and the public agree upon, members of both boards said it will cost the county's taxpayers.

"People need to realize that $90 million is 15 cents on the (property) tax rate. People's tax bills are going to increase 20 percent, and then you add maintenance costs, and it could go up more," Commissioner Jack Best told the audience.

Later in the evening, Tracy Price, whose son is a sophomore at Spring Creek High, questioned why some residents should be taxed to pay for new facilities while others don't have to contribute a dime.

"If the property tax increases, some people don't have to pay it because not everybody owns property. If it's a sales tax, everybody pays for it," Price said.

Whichever funding method is used to pay for facilities needs, Best said the county needs to focus on more than just new buildings.

"The county commissioners all believe we need facilities, but will $90 million make the school system better? Not if it's all used for brick and mortar. There is a deeper problem in the county than brick and mortar," Best said.

If some of the proposed $90 million could be used to hire qualified teachers and improve the entire educational system, Best said the county's children would receive a better education.

Plus, it will be difficult to sell a bond referendum to the entire county, Best said. Many county residents no longer have children in public schools and it will "be a hard sell" to ask those residents to pay an additional 20 percent on their property tax bills for facilities improvements, he added.

"We have to sell this to the public. If we don't, we have to go back to square one," Best said.

The public responded to the information presented with their own concerns.

In the Spring Creek area, the elementary school also needs work, residents said. Spring Creek Elementary School Advisory Committee member Susan Spengler said the elementary school has had to resort to putting students into mobile classrooms.

Also, students have to begin their lunch periods at 10:30 a.m., and the last students don't receive lunch until about 1:30 p.m., Mrs. Spengler said.

The school board's five-year facilities plan includes $3.5 million to build a second story to the building, which should replace the mobile units, Hill said.

Resident Charles Wright told board members and the audience that both groups should answer some tough questions before building more classrooms. According to the Evergreen Solutions report, Wright said the county is currently 3,200 seats under capacity, but the school board wants to spend $55 million to build an additional 3,220 seats.

If the district lines are redrawn, then each seat in the county could be used to its full potential, Wright said. Glenn Barfield, whose 6-year-old son started at Spring Creek this year, agreed.

"We can draw the lines. If so, we could move some students from Charles B. Aycock to Goldsboro High. If we can't do it, let's fess up. If we can't do it politically, let's face up to it," Barfield said.

Throughout the public forums, Hill said the team expects to receive public comments, so the five-year facilities plan can be reviewed and revised. Although Evergreen Solutions told the school system that most of the data had been completed for a facilities plan, Hill said it is important to continue receiving concerns from residents and each feeder group's advisory committees.

"We want to get their insight because they represent the schools," Hill said.

With that input, the master team will be able to pull from a larger $300 million plan over the next 20 years to continue creating individual five-year plans that address the needs of schools across the county, Taylor said.

Hill said he was encouraged by the public's comments Monday night. Since the entire process for improving facilities and education in Wayne County is a "fact-based mission," he said getting information from the public will allow the Facilities Master Plan Team the opportunity to review and revise the five-year facilities plan as needed.

Hill added he would like to see the same participation at future meetings.

The facilities meeting and public forum will continue next week at Goldsboro High School for parents or others interested in the future of Goldsboro High, Carver Heights, North Drive and School Street elementaries, Edgewood Community Developmental School, Dillard Middle and Goldsboro Intermediate.

On Sept. 25, a public forum will be held at Southern Wayne High School for Brogden Primary, Brogden Middle, Carver Elementary, Grantham, Mount Olive Middle and Southern Academy schools.

All Rosewood schools will have their forum at Rosewood High School on Oct. 2, and the final forum will be at Eastern Wayne High School for Eastern elementary, middle and high schools and Meadow Lane Elementary, Greenwood Middle and Tommy's Road Elementary.