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CMS Board Approves $180M In Contracts For Two High Schools

Here's a rendering of the new West Charlotte High.

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board approved $180 million in construction contracts Tuesday to replace the old West Charlotte High and add a new high school in the Palisades area.

The projects were part of the $922 million school bond package voters approved in 2017. Both schools are scheduled to open in 2022, and Superintendent Earnest Winston said construction will start within the next week.

The West Charlotte project, which will replace several aging buildings with one new building on the same campus, has been controversial because of revisions made since the bond vote. During the bond campaign it was described as a $110 million project to build a 125-classroom school.

In February, the school board voted to reduce the size to 100 classrooms. Officials said that would still accommodate 2,500 students, as promised -- more than enough for a school that currently has fewer than 1,400.

Credit Ann Doss Helms / WFAE
West Charlotte High supporters objected to the changes in February.

But West Charlotte supporters at that meeting put the change to the mostly black school in the context of broken promises and shabby treatment of African Americans over decades. Mecklenburg County Commissioner Vilma Leake told the board the changes are damaging community trust.

The $88 million contract on Tuesday's agenda awards the project to a joint venture of Rodgers builders and Holt Brothers Construction. The president and vice president of Holt Brothers are African American men and the CEO of Rodgers is a white woman. That means 100% of the project falls under the CMS goals for increasing participation of minotiry-owned, women-owned and small businesses.

Board member Thelma Byers-Bailey, who represents the West Charlotte district, spoke in favor of the contract. "This day has been a long time coming," she said.

Relief For Olympic High

Tuesday's agenda also includes a $92 million contract to Edifice General Contractors to build the same size school next to Palisades Park Elementary in booming southwest Charlotte. It would relieve crowding at Olympic High.

Credit CMS
Here's a rendering of the Olympic relief school.

The Olympic relief school was also listed as a $110 million, 125-classroom project in the bond material, but the changes there haven't drawn public objections.

The agenda says almost 28% of that project will go to minority, woman or small-business subcontractors.

The vote on both contracts was 7-1, with Sean Strain voting no and Ruby Jones abstaining. Both questioned the premise that CMS could reduce the number of classrooms to 100 and still promise to house 2,500 students.

Nothing On South School

The bond package included a third new high school, listed at the same estimated cost and size, to relieve crowding at Ardrey Kell, South Mecklenburg and Myers Park. Over the summer CMS began soil-testing on the grounds of Olde Providence Elementary with an eye to using that land.

But residents objected, saying the site is too small and detrimental to the neighborhood. Superintendent Earnest Winston agreed to look at other options, and there have been no details offered since. Tuesday's agenda includes nothing about the southern high school, which is now scheduled to open in 2023.

During the February meeting, Strain said the district has underestimated the cost for that school if it includes the cost of land that is quickly being developed in south Charlotte. CMS officials now say the $922 million in bonds won't be enough to pay for all 29 projects promised, but they say they'll find a way to pay for everything.

District leaders did not discuss how the COVID-19 recession might affect construction plans.