07/07/13 — County pushes for K-8 school

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County pushes for K-8 school

By Steve Herring
Published in News on July 7, 2013 1:50 AM

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The proposed location of the new school

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Proposed layout for the combined grades Grantham school

Wayne County commissioners continue to push their vision for a new $30 million K-8 Grantham School even as the Board of Education is asking for a joint meeting "as soon as possible" to discuss school projects.

Commission Chairman Steve Keen, who recently called the Board of Education "slack" in getting a school facilities plan to commissioners, isn't waiting. He and several other commissioners have visited Riverwood School in Johnston County, which could serve as a model for Grantham.

Tuesday, he invited Jimmy Hite of Hite Associates, the Greenville-based architecture/engineering/technology company that designed the school, to explain the plans. The presentation was not on the agenda for the meeting, but was added during commissioners' agenda briefing.

Keen said he and Hite also had visited the county-owned site on U.S. 13 South where the school would be built.

Commissioners have balked at the school board's proposal to build a new grades 5-8 middle school on the site and to leave K-4 students on the old campus.

If the old school is not safe or healthy for middle school students, then it isn't for elementary students either, commissioners said.

Also, building a new school without closing the old one would add to the annual operational costs, they said.

However, the plan presented by Hite shows the roughly 48-acre site being shared by a middle and elementary school separated by a large common parking lot.

The two schools address concerns about elementary school students sharing a school with older middle school children, commissioners said.

The board members did not comment on what affect the two schools would have on operational costs.

As presented, the 94,850-square-foot elementary school would cost about $12.3 million and have a capacity of 750 students. It could be expanded to accommodate up to 1,000 students, Hite said.

The middle school would be slightly smaller at 93,400 square feet and cost about $12.6 million. It would have a capacity of 410 students and could be doubled in size to accommodate 820 students, Hite said.

Site work would cost approximately $3 million for a total cost of roughly $28 million. Commissioners have asked the school system to help pay for the project by cutting its central office administrative costs by $500,000 annually.

Each school would have a central administrative/media building facing each other.

The elementary school would have four wings. Three would each house two grades, K-1, 2-3 and 4-5. The fourth would have an area for music and art, an indoor play area and cafeteria.

The middle school would have wings for grades 6, 7 and 8. It would have its own cafeteria and a gym that would also provide space for art and music.

A football/soccer field and baseball and softball fields would be built as well.

Each school would have its own bus parking lot.

The new site is located between U.S. 13 and Loop Road just east of the existing school. The front of the schools would face the interior of the site.

The plan calls for two new roads. One would connect U.S. 13 and Loop Road to provide access to both schools.

A second road that would connect to Loop Road and would provide bus access only to the campus.

The school and a related sewer project were included in the capital improvement plan adopted by commissioners last month. Originally scheduled for fiscal year 2015-16, commissioners moved both to 2014-15.

Commissioner Joe Daughtery asked if the school plan had been approved by the state Department of Public Instruction.

"Yes sir it has, many times," Hite said.

"Would that not save us some time to go ahead and start construction if we had a plan that has already been approved by the Department of Public Instruction?" Daughtery said.

The Department of Public Instruction approves each plan even though it might be identical to one done two years before, Hite said.

Hite said in his experience it normally takes the Department of Public Instruction about 30 days to approve a new school. The plans are actually sent to the agency before they are done to get review comments, he said.

"So we can finish at the same time," he said. "So it is not really a time situation. The Department of Insurance may take two months. We may have to go back and forth a few times.

"This  particular site has a little area that is wet. We need to figure that out. Worst-case scenario, if mitigation is involved, it might take six months. If  we get started early, we can incorporate some of that time into the design time."

A school project in Bertie County was recently designed and permitted within four months, he said.

For the most part, commissioners praised the plans and the need for a new school.

However, Commissioner Ed Cromartie voiced a concern.

"I, like everyone else, am interested in Grantham having a new school," he said. "The only thing I would say today, and I don't mean this to be negative, I wish the school board was sitting here hearing the same presentation.

"I don't want people getting this at different times. I want everybody to get it so that nobody feels left behind. We simply need to get on the same page. I just think that we can all get together and resolve this in a very amicable manner."