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South Charlotte Residents Seek Changes In Plans For Two New Schools

Construction is under way at the Rea Farms K-8 school that will open in August.

Some south Charlotte residents hope a change in superintendents this summer will give them a new shot at revising plans for two new schools in their area.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools seemed locked in on plans for those schools: A high school scheduled to open in 2023 and a K-8 school, informally known as Rea Farms, slated to open in 2020. 

In June, the school board voted to open the K-8 school as a neighborhood school with 30% of the seats set aside for a magnet program. Despite alternative proposals from parents, the board stuck with that plan, which was endorsed by then-Superintendent Clayton Wilcox.

Now residents are petitioning for a full magnet, which would let families decide whether to opt in or stay put. But Wilcox was pushed out in August and replaced by Earnest Winston. Neither Wilcox nor the board has disclosed reasons for his suspension and resignation.

School board member Sean Strain, who represents south Charlotte, said at Tuesday's meeting that he'll ask the board soon to request a second opinion from Winston.

"I look forward to the majority of this board agreeing to ask the superintendent to revisit the previous recommendation," Strain said, "and reaffirm with his new leadership team how he would recommend that Rea Farms be used in the best interest of the community and district, consistent with the spirit if not the letter of the bond."

The $40 million Rea Farms school is one of the last 2013 bond projects still under construction. It was pitched as a STEAM school — that's science, technology, engineering, arts and math — but the mix of magnet and neighborhood attendance was not clear. Now CMS officials say they're open to a different magnet theme, with a decision expected this month.

The new school is designed to pull students from crowded elementary and middle schools nearby, including Community House Middle, which has more than 1,900 students this year, and Jay M. Robinson Middle, with just over 1,200.

High School Site Controversy

Also Tuesday, south Charlotte residents urged the board to reject a preliminary plan to build a 3,000-student high school on land next to Olde Providence Elementary. Many of them learned of that plan in August, when CMS brought in bulldozers and cleared trails for soil testing.

Shortly after that, Strain asked Winston to stop work and review the best location for the school. The 2017 bonds include $110 million for a 125-classroom high school to relieve crowding at Ardrey Kell, South Mecklenburg and possibly Myers Park.

With more than 3,000 students each, those are the largest schools in CMS, and probably in North Carolina.

On Tuesday several residents of that area wore green T-shirts while speakers urged CMS to change its plans.

Olde Providence resident and CMS parent Robert Gannon compared the Olde Providence site, which he described as less than 30 acres, with 85 acres available for a similar-sized high school that will be built next to Palisades Elementary. The Olde Providence site might have room for a school, he said, but not for parking lots and athletic fields.

Mary Ann Gaffney said the Olde Providence site would create traffic hazards, require CMS to build an expensive parking deck and be too far from crowded Ardrey Kell High.

"There is land available now in south Charlotte, land the district could secure to build a fully comprehensive high school that allows room for growth," Gaffney said.

The catch is that CMS already owns the Olde Providence site, and a big chunk of land in the Ballantyne area wouldn’t be cheap.

Winston says he’s still reviewing the high school site. He says he’ll wait for the board’s instructions on whether to rethink the K-8 plan.