CMS unveils plan to build, upgrade schools

CMS unveils plan to build, upgrade schools


by APRIL BETHEA / Charlotte Observer

Posted on March 27, 2013 at 6:12 AM

Updated Monday, Aug 26 at 3:35 AM

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools would expand magnet, career and technical offerings, add seats to an early college program and replace or renovate old buildings under a capital plan unveiled Tuesday.

The district said it would cost about $400 million to complete the top 25 projects in its proposal, which also includes building three K-8 schools and expanding other campuses to relieve crowding. Additional grades would be added to some schools, including turning E.E. Waddell Language Academy into a K-12 school.

The projects discussed at Tuesday’s school board meeting are just part of a larger 10-year capital plan. CMS said the initial list includes projects the district wants to start first – the next time a bond referendum is put before voters, which could come as soon as November.

The size of a school bond package – the first since 2007 – is still unclear. Mecklenburg County, which pays for school construction, hasn’t made any recommendations on projects beyond the next budget year. In addition, CMS would be competing with other needs across Mecklenburg.

But CMS officials say the plan is a way to begin addressing needs across the district and give families more choices in programs offered at schools.

Superintendent Heath Morrison said the proposal “reflects our commitment to provide a personalized environment of academic excellence that inspires every child to achieve their personal best.”

The proposed plan includes projects across Mecklenburg. Among them:

• Turn the old Oakhurst Elementary on Monroe Road to a K-5 science, math and arts magnet. The site used to have the Paideia magnet but was converted two years ago to administrative space.

• Build a K-8 school to relieve overcrowding at Albemarle Road elementary and middle schools. The new school also would offer a dual-language immersion magnet to ease Collinswood Language Academy.

• Convert Davidson and Mountain Island elementaries to K-8 schools.

• Renovate the auditorium at Northwest School of the Arts, build a new 50-classroom building at Myers Park High School and finish renovations at six K-8 schools.

Morrison and other school leaders said the district tried to be creative in how it spent money in the new plan.

The new plan would build some new campuses, but also would expand and add more grades to existing schools. CMS would increase the number of K-8 schools, which some parents have said they like because it reduces the number of transitions students have to make between schools.

Morrison said the plan would allow the school system to add magnet programs – many in science and math – to areas that don’t have them. For example, a new 1,500-student science and math high school would be built at what is now the Smith Family Center off Tyvola Road.

A so-called STEAM magnet – the sciences plus art – also would be part of a proposed K-8 school to be built in southern Mecklenburg.

The capital plan also would expand CMS’ career and technical education program. Some high schools would be designated as career and technical hubs, offering programs in culinary, automotive, carpentry and other areas. Students at other schools would be allowed to either transfer to a specific hub, or simply take classes part-time, if they were interested in a particular program.

CMS also wants to expand the Cato Middle College High program, where juniors and seniors take courses at Central Piedmont Community College. Deputy Superintendent Ann Clark said the district has talked with officials from CPCC about allowing students to take classes at some of the college’s other campuses, including in Matthews and Huntersville.

The district began notifying families and CMS staff about the proposed capital plan on Tuesday and plans to share more information in coming weeks. A public hearing will be April 9, with a school board vote to follow two weeks later.

The new capital plan effort comes as CMS works to finish projects from the $516 million school bond package that voters approved almost six years ago.

Many projects from those bonds were delayed in recent years while the county aimed to get its construction spending under control. But current plans call for all of the remaining projects to be completed by 2016.

To start any new projects, the county would need to borrow more money.

Mecklenburg County Finance Director Dena Diorio said county officials have not made any recommendations on how it will pay for projects beyond the 2013-14 budget, but noted that CPCC also has talked of a possible bond request. In addition, she said there could be needs among county facilities and libraries.

CMS said it expects to present its bond request to county commissioners in May.

On Tuesday, school board members gave early praise to the capital plan, saying they thought the district did a good job of addressing needs across the county.

“You guys have hit a home run on this, an absolute home run,” said Vice Chairman Tim Morgan.