$90 million is needed, but where?
By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on December 19, 2006 1:45 PM
At least $90 million will be needed to tackle school construction projects, members of the Facility Master Plan Education Process Focus Committee agreed Monday.
The question will be how to distribute the money for the district's long-term benefit.
The group tasked with examining school building needs and available funds completed its recommendations after a second discussion meeting Monday. The recommendations will be passed along to the school board for final review.
The committee's goal, members said, was to come up with a plan that keeps the county's schools in good condition for 10-20 years, not just patched temporarily.
Among the proposals were a request that the school board consider making Charles B. Aycock High School into a middle school and build another high school, discussion about the possibility that a magnet school be introduced on the campus of Goldsboro High School, and a recommendation that more money be used for renovations at Dillard Middle School.
In addition to visiting each of the 31 public schools in Wayne County, the committee was tasked with studying the proposed $90 million five-year facilities plan and determining how it stacked up against the needs in the schools.
Rapid growth patterns in the northwest side of the county prompted discussion about how best to utilize space at Aycock, where the overflow is being handled by modular units for classrooms.
According to the facilities plan, $6 million is allocated for projects at the high school. Among them are to add 20 teaching stations, renovate the cafeteria and administration area and other maintenance projects.
Committee member Trey Taylor said the 20 classrooms would be insufficient over time as the overcrowding continues.
Subdivisions are continuing to be built in the northern end of the county and committee member Debbie Worley said with the addition of another Wal-Mart, there will be even more growth reflected in the schools in that area.
"If 20 (classrooms) isn't enough, we need to look at what the next step would be. We might have to move some from the Rosewood area," she said.
Dr. Craig McFadden, assistant superintendent for accountability with the school system and a committee member, said that would be a very unpopular move in the Rosewood and Aycock communities. It brought to mind a survey several years ago given those who reside west of U.S. 117.
"It came back 90 percent plus 'no' with some very interesting comments as to what we would do with it," he said. "Somewhere back in the '60s (Aycock) was promised it would never happen, and they brought that up very quickly."
County commissioner Jack Best, a member of the Master Plan Facility Team, mentioned consolidating students from the two schools in a gradual phase-in. He then suggested "thinking outside the box" and building another high school, making Aycock into a middle school.
"Or just change the line as Jim (Parker) said at the last meeting," he said. "Those are the kind of things you look at."
The facilities plan contains $14.5 million designated for a new middle school in the northern end and $6 million worth of renovations to the aging Norwayne Middle School, prompting a question from committee member Jim Parker.
"Why are we spending $21 million on a middle school and doing patchwork on a middle school rather than build a new high school?" he asked. "Sooner or later you have got to buy a new land site.
"I think that's what all of us struggle with -- $90 million seems like a lot of money. ... We're going to a lot of schools that are, I hate to say it, obsolete or they're going to be obsolete."
There would still be the need to build, said Sprunt Hill, assistant superintendent for auxiliary services.
"You can't leave Norwayne the way it is," he said.
"You need to spend money for Norwayne but you don't need to spend money if you had another middle school," Parker replied.
Associate superintendent for instruction Dr. Sandra McCullen chaired the meeting and said the school board could be asked to consider making Aycock into a middle school and adding an additional high school in its place.
When the discussion turned to schools in the central attendance area, committee member Tommy Jarrett said he wished there was a true magnet school on the campus of Goldsboro High. The school system recently announced there would be a "school-within-a-school" there focusing on science, technology, engineering and math, but did not call it a magnet school.
"I wish the school board would endorse (a magnet school) and make it part of the future of the school system," he said. "It's easy to talk about it. It's hard to do."
Receiving no response and after several moments of unrelated remarks, Jarrett raised the issue again.
"I made a comment (about magnet schools) and a hush fell across America. Is there a disease that affects magnet schools?" he asked.
"It's hard to get your arms around why the school board doesn't push for specialized programs, like the school within a school," Parker said.
Taylor said that "a lot of strings come with that money from federal sources."
"I'm just being blunt," Jarrett said. "If we don't want a magnet, let's don't have it."
Committee member Fred Shadding said a magnet school is needed, even with all the strings attached.
"What we have, I'm leary of what it's going to become," he said. "We should be starting a magnet school, a real magnet school, not a piecemeal school.
"It seems to me as big as that school is and with the small number of students that are currently attending there, I think they need to take that government money, follow the guidelines, take the thing and do it because every county has it."
Shadding said there should be a study done on the possibility of introducing a magnet school in Wayne County. With some creativity, it wouldn't require a lot of construction, he said.
"Our population is shifting, but our lines are not shifting," he said. "There's plenty of room in our schools. I don't think all this building is necessary."
Parker said there have been conflicts between the city and county over the years, accompanied by a fear that a magnet school would take quality resources and students away from the schools. McFadden added that in the throes of acquiring a very competitive grant back in 1994, citizens all over the county sent letters to Washington D.C. that "killed it" before it was approved.
"I guess it's just me and George Bush," Jarrett said. "He's the only one for the war, and I'm the only one for the magnet school."
Committee member Gerald Simmons replied, "I will join you."
As for remaining schools in the central attendance area, $8 million of the plan has been budgeted to cover renovations to six schools. The projects primarily include electrical upgrades, floor covering, and replacing doors and hardware.
Dillard Middle School alone could benefit from $2.5 million to $3 million in improvements, Simmons said.
"That school needs a lot of improvements," he said, noting the ceiling lighting makes it "very depressing to walk down the halls."
Drainage problems and leaky roofs were also mentioned, at Dillard as well as other schools throughout the school system.
"I think that we have some serious construction needs in this county, both from a capital standpoint and from delapidated buildings," Taylor said. "We desperately need new schools and renovations. I don't see how we can get by with doing less than $90 million."
He added he hopes the county commissioners will approve a plan, whether it is the current one proposed or another one that addresses the needs.
"I agree that we have got to do something," Ms. Worley said. "Whether what's recommended in this plan, I don't know. But we have got to make some changes."
Parker, who said he doesn't necessarily agree with all components of the building plan, did concur with his counterparts on the committee.
"I think we have seen that we need $90 million worth of improvements," he said.
Some of the facilities have been overfunded for the present needs, Simmons said, while allocations for others could be increased considerably.
And then there is the case to be made for the lack of diversity that still exists in the central attendance area, Shadding said.
"That would also be one of my concerns if we consider building another high school," Simmons replied.
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