12/10/06 — Committee: New schools or repairs?

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Committee: New schools or repairs?

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on December 10, 2006 2:00 AM

New buildings, not patched up old ones, might be the best plan, members of a committee tasked with coming up a plan for Wayne County school facilities said.

The Educational Process Committee, one of three focus committees assigned by the Facilities Master Plan Team to assess needs in the school system, held its first meeting at the county schools' administrative offices Friday. Their charge was to review building capacity and to submit their recommendations for the schools.

Among the issues discussed were drainage problems, under-utilized classrooms, security and the feasibility of renovations versus new construction.

The consensus was that drainage and technology were among the most common problems that need to be addressed, as well as retrofitting the wiring at all the schools, said Dr. Sandra McCullen, associate superintendent for instruction.

The 10-member committee divided up the county's 31 schools and visited each in recent weeks. Some raised questions about empty classrooms and how they are being used.

"Capacity is kind of a funny thing," committee member Jim Parker said. "Tommy's Road and Spring Creek elementary schools were built 10 years ago. Built for 600, one has 600 (students); the other was built for 600 and has 800."

County Commissioner Jack Best, a member of the Facilities Master Plan Team, said it's important to consider whether capacity reflects the principals' judgment of space usage and if some of the empty space could be reconverted back for classrooms.

"I don't want to be railroaded into something that says this is exactly the way it is," he said. "The question is, some of these special rooms set aside, could they be used as a classroom?"

Committee member Fred Shadding said the word capacity evokes different meanings and connotations. During his site visits, he said he saw a lot of empty classrooms that were set aside for "special use."

"Is this a luxury, some of these rooms?" he asked. "Are they really needed? I don't know, but it seems to me there was a lot of room in all of them that I visited."

By contrast, schools like Charles B. Aycock High School need additional space.

Dr. Craig McFadden, a member of the committee and assistant superintendent for accountability and student services for the school system, said that Aycock is "stuffed."

"There are kids outside eating lunch in the rain," he said.

Sprunt Hill, assistant superintendent for auxiliary services, said Best was correct in asking about special programs taking up classroom space throughout the school system.

"It's never been hidden from anyone that if you take programs that are for the children from the schools, your capacity can go back up where it was," he said. Noting such programs as the WISH school-based health centers, Title I programs, social workers and school nurses, Hill said, "You take them out, you'll have capacity."

Safety measures also drew the attention of some committee members. At Brogden Primary School, McFadden said the school building has many entrances. Committee member Gerald Simmons called the openness of the premises "a mounting security concern," suggesting the need for security cameras.

Simmons also noted weather-induced water problems, a "woefully inadequate" gymnasium, and supported the five-year facilities' plan recommendation to provide a cafetorium. According to the plan, $4 million has been earmarked for Brogden Primary.

The drainage issue at the primary school prompted Best to ask, "Why would you spend $4 million on a school in a hole?"

"You really need a bulldozer," quipped McFadden, adding, "If you're going to talk about a bulldozer, it's the most oddly designed school and poorly designed. You would be better off building a new one."

"Is Brogden Primary a school that we want to have here in 10 or 15 years?" Best asked. "If we're going to have to replace Brogden Primary or any of these schools, why are we spending so much money on it?

"If we really are asking about education for the long run and we're talking about $90 million (five-year facilities plan) ... why don't we look at the next 30 years rather than the next five years?"

Others suggested that schools like Norwayne Middle, Meadow Lane and Eastern Wayne Middle schools have experienced similar struggles with flooding and drainage. Under the proposed facilities plan, Eastern Wayne Middle faces demolition.

A lot of the flooding problems at Eastern Wayne could be corrected with a new school, Shadding said.

Best asked whether it would be more feasible to consider replacing schools rather than patch them temporarily.

McFadden replied that the $90 million proposed facilities plan centered around renovations because "to replace (schools) would cost much more."

Later in the discussion, Best said, "Why not go to the county commissioners and say, 'We need to replace schools, not repair schools.' It costs money but it's better to spend $100 million on this stuff rather than spend $90 million (on repairs)."

"You're struggling with the same things the Board of Education has been dealing with for years," Dr. McCullen said.

The need for a new middle school to ease overcrowding in the Grantham community was also debated. Committee members Debbie Worley and Tommy Jarrett visited the school and said they are convinced of the need for a new school building.

Parker questioned the decision for a 900 core capacity school and whether that could be sold to the county at large.

"I don't know why it's educationally sound to build a school with 300 extra seats ... when we have got all these other needs that need to be satisfied," he said. "Politically it's not going to happen (to redraw district lines) so we need to build a smaller school."

"It's very simple," Jarrett said. "Build a school or move the line."

Parker said instead of building a $14.5 million middle school in Grantham, there might be consideration given to building one for $7 million that would accommodate 300 students.

After more than two hours, the group adjourned and decided to continue its discussion at a subsequent meeting Dec. 18. Once recommendations are compiled, Dr. McCullen said, they will be forwarded to the school board, which will make the final decision.