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The Mecklenburg County Commission has approved a $2.5 billion bond package for CMS that will go before voters. The board says the money is needed to add classrooms, replace outdated schools, improve learning conditions and keep students safer in violent times.

$5 billion CMS construction list includes uptown high school and regional sports fields

Plans for a regional athletic facility at E.E. Waddell High School in southwest Charlotte.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools
Plans for a regional athletic facility at E.E. Waddell High School in southwest Charlotte.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Tuesday released a ranked list of 125 projects that would shuffle locations of magnet programs, reduce reliance on mobile classrooms and take a new approach to high school sports.

It’s a first step toward choosing a shorter list of projects for a 2023 bond referendum, the first since voters approved a record $992 million five years ago. Construction consultant Dennis LaCaria said after the board meeting the 2023 request is likely to be $2 billion or more, based on rising construction costs.

A plan to build regional athletic facilities at a cost of about $70 million each generated discussion at Tuesday’s school board meeting. LaCaria said they’d have swimming pools, ball fields, tennis courts and football stadiums, all big enough to host major tournaments and competitions.

He said high schools would still have facilities big enough for physical education classes and sports practices, but might not include stadiums with press boxes and large numbers of bleachers. That would cut the cost of some renovations, he said, and allow CMS to build different types of high schools as land costs spike.

“We do have land already earmarked to do a number of these if this is something that we decide as a community to pursue,” he said.

A promise long delayed

One of the top-ranked projects is a $175 million multi-story high school next to Metro School in uptown Charlotte. It would be a medical technology magnet school, working in partnership with Atrium Health and Central Piedmont Community College.

Board Chair Elyse Dashew said the school “is truly going to take us into the next era of Charlotte,” preparing students for jobs in the medical and support fields. At the same time, she said, it could help address a historic injustice.

Second Ward High School, an all-Black school that used to occupy that site, was demolished in 1969 as part of the “urban renewal” destruction of the Brooklyn neighborhood. Dashew noted that school officials at the time promised to rebuild it.

“And that promise was never kept,” she said. “So perhaps we’ve finally hit upon the time to make good on that promise.”

Site study for a new Second Ward High School.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools
Site study for a new Second Ward High School.

Time for public feedback

Tuesday’s report includes a ranking system that includes an “educational environment index.” Schools get extra points toward renovation or replacement if conditions impede learning — things like poor air circulation, noisy heating and air-conditioning systems, lack of natural daylight and designs that make it hard to keep students safe.

LaCaria said the system also aims to reduce reliance on mobile classrooms, which can lead to overcrowded cafeterias and staggered lunches that run from morning to near dismissal time.

One thing that’s missing from Tuesday’s report is enrollment projections. LaCaria said the pandemic brought a plunge in students in CMS and many other districts, and it’s still not clear how to forecast enrollment in the coming years. He said the district hopes to get a better grasp on that when next year’s tally is taken in the fall.

LaCaria said the rating system and the preliminary list are intended as starting points, with months of public engagement planned before the board votes on a bond list early next year. For instance, he said, CMS will launch a public survey about magnet programs this week.

Top projects

Here are some of the highest-ranked projects on the list:

  • South Mecklenburg High would get an $81 million replacement of the older parts of its campus. That price could be lower if CMS adopts a regional sports facility plan.
  • Beverly Woods Elementary School would get a $49.5 million replacement building on site.
  • East Mecklenburg High would get a $121 million replacement of the older parts of its campus (lower cost if regional athletics are adopted).
  • Allenbrook Elementary would be demolished, with a $49.5 million replacement school built at the Freedom Driving Range. It would likely require a boundary adjustment.
  • Wilson STEM Academy would get a $61.5 million replacement school on the same site.
  • Sedgefield Middle School would be converted to a PreK-6 Montessori magnet school, with Park Road Montessori moving into that building. A replacement school would cost $49.5 million.
  • Starmount Elementary would be replaced on site with a $49.5 million 45-classroom building, with boundaries adjusted to take in some students from the Huntingtowne Farms zone.
  • Harding High would get a $124.5 million renovation (lower cost if regional athletics are adopted).
  • Dorothy Vaughan Academy of Technology, currently a K-5 school, would be replaced on site with a $61.5 million 54-classroom building. It would become a K-8 school, eventually expanding to K-12.
  •  A new middle school would be built in south Charlotte to relieve Community House Middle School, at a cost of $61.5 million (site to be determined).
  • Coulwood STEM Academy would get a $61.5 million on-site replacement.
  • A new Second Ward Medical and Technology High School would be built next to Metro School in uptown Charlotte; it would also house administrative offices that are now in the Government Center. Cost: $175 million.
  • The old Spaugh school, now used for staff services, would be demolished and replaced with a $49.5 million building that would house the secondary Montessori magnet now housed at J.T. Williams.
  • University Park Creative Arts School, now a partial magnet, would be replaced with a $42.5 million, 39-classroom building and converted to a full magnet.
  • Performance Learning Center, now housed at the old Derita school, would move to E.E. Waddell, which is being converted back to a high school. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Virtual School, iMeck Academy and some programs from Hawthorne Academy would also move to Waddell, which may also become the first regional athletic facility. Derita would be demolished and replaced with an $18.5 million Alternative to Suspension Center.

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Ann Doss Helms has covered education in the Charlotte area for over 20 years, first at The Charlotte Observer and then at WFAE. Reach her at ahelms@wfae.org or 704-926-3859.