Wake County to add 5 major school renovation projects in 2022

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Second from right, Brentwood Elementary School of Engineering principal Robert Epler in 2016 answers questions from a group of Wake County Public School System future teachers in an outdoors passageway of the school. Major renovations at Brentwood are recommended for inclusion in the district’s school construction program.

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Some aging Wake County schools are competing to get major renovations done by the end of the decade.

Wake County school administrators presented two different options this week for including five major renovation projects and seven new schools in the district’s ongoing building program. Administrators said they can only fund five major renovation projects within the $374 million for renovations that the county expects to provide over the next seven years.

The list produced frustration Tuesday among multiple school board members who said there are so many renovations that need to be done now.

“Does the cost model trump the crumbling schools model?” said board member Jim Martin.

The school board will pick the projects on April 19 that will be included in the next seven years of the building program. Funding comes from a combination of bonds approved by voters and others approved only by the Wake County Board of Commissioners.

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Second from right, Brentwood Elementary School of Engineering principal Robert Epler Wednesday, May 18, 2016 answers questions from a group of Wake County Public School System future teachers in an outdoors passageway of the school. Major renovations at Brenwood are recommended for inclusion in the district’s school construction program. Harry Lynch [email protected]

Commissioners are expected to place the next school construction bond referendum on the Nov. 8 ballot.

“Our overall message as we go forward with this bond is that the school system is building schools children deserve and spaces our educators deserve as working conditions,” said school board member Christine Kushner.

Comparing the two options

Schools were prioritized for renovations based on a system that looked at four criteria:

campus building condition (40%).

health and safety (30%).

impact on school choice (15%).

education adequacy (10%).

Under option one, major renovations would be done at Lockhart Elementary in Knightdale, Brentwood Elementary in Raleigh, Briarcliff Elementary in Cary, Ligon Middle in Raleigh and North Garner Middle or Zebulon Middle.

Option one would also fund seven new schools: Bryan Road Middle in Garner, a small high school in western Cary or Morrisville, an elementary school in Wendell or Zebulon and an elementary school on Poole Road in eastern Raleigh. It would also fund an elementary school in northeast Raleigh, an elementary school in Apex or Holly Springs and an elementary school in western Cary or Morrisville.

Option two has some of the same projects as option one.

Option two would fund renovations at Adams Elementary in Cary and Powell Elementary in Raleigh instead of at Ligon Middle and North Garner Middle or Zebulon Middle.

Unlike option one, option two would include construction of Woods Creek Middle in Holly Springs instead of a new elementary school in Apex or Holly Springs.

‘We should be renovating like crazy’

School board member Heather Scott, whose district includes much of Eastern Wake, said she was frustrated how Wendell Elementary fell out of of consideration because it was ranked 11th on the list this year. It was ranked fifth last year.

“I’m not saying that the East deserves more than any other part of the district,” Scott said. “But it is getting harder and harder for me to go back to this community over the last four years and say, ‘Not yet.’”

Board member Karen Carter pointed to how most of the recently completed major renovation projects are in Raleigh. Her district represents much of Cary.

“I’m not saying they weren’t needed,” Carter said. ”But you know we have other areas of the county and I guess again that goes to what we’re looking at and ensuring that other areas are not neglected.”

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Wendell Elementary School teachers help students find their rides in the busy school carpool lane last Wednesday. [email protected]

Kushner defended the recent renovations as being needed because Raleigh accounts for half of the district’s enrollment. She also said that now that growth has slowed that Wake has been able to get to renovations in Raleigh that were put on hold to build new schools in places like western and southern Wake.

The district’s enrollment is below where it was two years ago, because schools have lost students during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We don’t have the growth pressure to the same degree that we historically have and may very well again,” board member Martin said. “Now is when we should be renovating like crazy because if we don’t, it’s going to come back to bite us in the not-too-distant future.”

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T. Keung Hui has covered K-12 education for the News & Observer since 1999, helping parents, students, school employees and the community understand the vital role education plays in North Carolina. His primary focus is Wake County, but he also covers statewide education issues.