07/28/13 — School board, county to talk

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School board, county to talk

By Steve Herring
Published in News on July 28, 2013 1:50 AM

Wayne County commissioners and the Board of Education are expected not only to discuss plans for a new Grantham School at their joint meeting Tuesday, but also to spell out the responsibilities and duties of each board when it comes to the school system and its facilities.

The public meeting will be held at the Lane Tree Conference Center, 2317 Salem Church Road. Light refreshments will be served at 8:30 a.m. The meeting will start at 9 a.m. and is scheduled to last until 2:30 p.m.

It will be facilitated by Margaret Henderson of the School of Government at UNC-Chapel Hill.

According to the agenda released Friday morning, the goals of the meeting are to strengthen the working relationships between the two boards; to clarify the respective roles, responsibilities and authority of the two boards; to provide a foundation of accurate information that will inform the shared or separate planning and decision-making of both boards; to share information about potential design concepts to apply to facility needs; and to agree on the next steps to take.

At noon, James Hite of Hite Associates, a Greenville-based architecture/engineering/technology company, is scheduled to make a concept/feasibility presentation on possible new Grantham middle and elementary schools, as well as for projects at Charles B. Aycock High School, Spring Creek Elementary School and the central attendance area schools.

Hite, who has been paid $2,500 by the county, has already made a presentation to commissioners on the Grantham project.

The school board asked for the meeting to discuss school facilities after commission Chairman Steve Keen called it "slack" in getting a facilities plan to the commission even through the school board had earlier voted to complete its existing plan adopted in 2007.

Several commissioners, including Keen, have visited the Hite-designed Riverwood School in Johnston County, which could serve as a model for Grantham.

Keen and Hite also have visited the county-owned site on U.S. 13 South where the new Grantham School would be built.

The school board favors building a new grades 5-8 middle school at the new location, while leaving the elementary school on the existing site. That proposal also drew support from Grantham community residents during last month's public hearing on the county budget.

Commissioners, however, are pushing for a $30 million K-8 school, which they included in the county's $258 million capital improvement plan. Originally planned for 2015-16, commissioners moved the project up to 2014-15, along with a $3 million sewer project that would serve the school.

The other school projects in the commission's plan for 2014-15 are $1.87 million for central attendance area schools; $3.85 million for Spring Creek Elementary School; and $6.6 million for Charles B. Aycock High School.

Supporters of the two-campus plan for Grantham have said it is best to separate elementary and middle school students.

Commissioners counter that Hite's plan addresses that concern by building middle and elementary schools separated by a large common parking lot on the new site 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.

Commissioners have put forth two other arguments for a K-8 school -- safety and cost.

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

As for cost, building a new school without closing the old one would add to annual operational costs, they added.

What commissioners have not discussed is how having two schools on the same campus would affect annual operating costs.

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

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.

Currently, there are 477 students in kindergarten through fourth grade and 399 in fifth through eighth grade for a total of 876 enrolled at Grantham School.

Site work would cost approximately $3 million for a total cost of roughly $28 million.

Commissioners have asked the school system 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.

Two new roads would be built.

One would connect U.S. 13 and Loop Road to provide access to both schools. A second road would connect to Loop Road and would provide bus access only to the campus. Each school would have its own bus parking lot.