04/11/07 — Duplin School Board takes look at facilities possibilities

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Duplin School Board takes look at facilities possibilities

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on April 11, 2007 1:45 PM

KENANSVILLE -- With a 2005 facilities study already in hand, the Duplin Board of Education took a look Tuesday night at that plan and continued the process of deciding whether it should be changed or followed.

It's a decision that board members all agreed needs to be made soon -- especially, as school superintendent Dr. Wiley Doby said, construction cost are increasing by about $400,000 to $600,000 every month.

Already, the estimated costs of the construction has increased from about $49.5 million in 2005 to nearly $70 million today.

"It's been off the table for too long. It's something that needs to be done," board chairwoman Emily Manning said.

But the members were split -- old versus new -- over which direction to take.

"It's a bad plan," new board member Jennings Outlaw said. "I think the plan needs to be changed."

Currently, the plan adopted by the school board and approved by the county commissioners in 2005 calls for building one new high school to replace James Kenan High School and serve both the James Kenan and the B.F. Grady districts, one new elementary school to serve the B.F. Grady district, expanding Charity Middle School and converting James Kenan High School into a middle school to replace Warsaw Middle and E.E. Smith Middle.

Outlaw, however, argued that a $35 million high school is not needed and that the money would be better spent building a new elementary school for the B.F. Grady district and a new middle school for Warsaw and E.E. Smith. Such a change also would keep students in the B.F Grady district going to East Duplin High School.

"I agree about wanting a nice high school, but I don't think we have a need for a new high school right now and I don't think we have the funding anyway," he said. "We don't need to be building just to build buildings."

In his opinion, he continued, it would be easier to get funding for several smaller projects, rather than one large one -- with both addressing the same basic needs.

But, he added, if the board persists in building the new high school in the current proposed location near the North Duplin district, then it should at least look at dealing with North Duplin High School in some fashion.

Fellow new board member Chuck Farrior also had some concerns about the old plan -- namely that it did not address the county's varied school designs.

All high schools are ninth through 12th grade, but some middle schools are fifth through eighth, while others are sixth through eighth. Some elementary schools hold kindergarten through fifth or sixth grade, while others are broken up into primary schools, kindergarten through second or third grade, and intermediate schools, third or fourth through fifth or sixth grade. And still, three of the county's 15 schools are kindergarten through eighth.

"That's probably my major concern," Farrior said. "I think this decision we're going to make is going to be a 20- to 30-year decision."

The alignment also concerns school superintendent Dr. Wiley Doby.

"We're all over the board. We've got all kinds of grade configurations out there," he said. "I think it would be advisable for the system to move toward school alignment. It's not necessary, but it would be nice.

"It's too much to deal with in the schools and it makes it difficult to administer a school system."

But Manning and members Willie Gillespie, Hubert Bowden and Reginald Kenan said they were more inclined to stick with the original plan.

"If you take the high school out of the plan, you don't have a plan," Gillespie said.

Manning agreed, saying that to her, the most biggest priority was getting the new high school.

"I would love to see a new high school built in this part of the county that Kenansville would be proud of, that Warsaw would be proud of and that North Duplin would want to be a part of," she said.

In the end, Bowden said, it comes down to the fact that the plan has already been approved and he accused Outlaw of taking advantage of his new position on the board to agitate against a plan that his district -- B.F. Grady -- never really liked from the start.

"We have heard from the beginning that people in that area (B.F. Grady) don't want a high school. We've heard that for some time. What you're telling us is something we already know," the former Warsaw Middle School principal said. "I don't want to see us going through all of this we already went through."

The problem, he continued, is that the school board has been working for years to replace Warsaw Middle -- even before Manning came on the board 16 years ago.

"If Warsaw was not a predominantly black school in a predominantly black community, I think this problem would have been dealt with years ago," he said, adding that he would be willing to bring North Duplin in if it would help get the new high school.

But, with the board unsure which direction it wants to take, it delayed making any decisions and asked Doby to invite a representative from architectural firm Shuller, Ferris, Lindstrom and Associates to come to its April 24 meeting to discuss what the plan would look like if the new high school was replaced by a new middle school and if moves were made to align the system's schools.

"We need to talk about this more. It's not something we can decide tonight," Outlaw said.